Gabriel Agbonlahor must be seething. Just three days after he branded Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds a myth following their 1-0 defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers, the Whites responded with their best performance of the season so far to end Aston Villa’s perfect start to the Premier League campaign.
There were countless occasions where the former Aston Villa striker-turned TalkSport pundit was made to look a fool for his comments, with multiple Leeds players shining despite the absence of captain Liam Cooper and lynchpin Kalvin Phillips.
Aston Villa 0-3 Leeds:— LUFCDATA (@LUFCDATA) October 23, 2020
Successful Passes: 201-351
Final Third Passes: 70-121
Chances Created: 9-21
Ball Recoveries: 43-58
Tackles Won: 14-15
Saves: 6-3 pic.twitter.com/YpwjLXuR6L
From Ezgjan Alioski and Luke Ayling shining in their makeshift defensive roles, to Patrick Bamford scoring an astonishing hat-trick, here are six things we learnt from last night’s 3-0 victory over Aston Villa at Villa Park.
1 - Bamford is built for the Premier League.
Six players have scored a hat-trick in the Premier League so far this season: Mohammed Salah, Son Heung-min, Jamie Vardy, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Ollie Watkins and now Patrick Bamford.
The player who scored 16 goals from a much greater xG count in the Championship last year is taking no prisoners in the top-flight, having retained his brilliant work ethic off the ball from his second-tier days.
Patrick Bamford vs. Aston Villa:— LUFCDATA (@LUFCDATA) October 23, 2020
12 touches in the box
4 shots on-target
3 aerial duels won
3 goals ⚽⚽⚽
2 chances created
Sensational performance from our hat-trick hero. Match ball. ⚽ #LUFC pic.twitter.com/FWAQE7cOOG
Even before his second half treble, the ex-Chelsea striker was showing promising signs; on two occasions in the opening 45 minutes, he met the end of a Harrison cross having timed his run between Aston Villa centre-halves Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa to near perfection. Only the pressure from the two defenders kept Bamford from finding the target, as his shots instead flew narrowly wide.
Despite Harrison and Bamford threatening to connect like they did for the winner at Sheffield United, the number nine did not need the Manchester City loanee to put away his three memorable goals: the opener showcased his anticipation as Emiliano Martinez parried Rodrigo Moreno’s shot straight into the path of the striker; the second was an exceptional finish into the top corner from the edge of the area; the third a delicious dink into the far corner after taking two touches to evade multiple defenders in the box.
⚽️⚽️⚽️ Patrick Bamford is the 1st player to score a PL hat-trick for Leeds since Mark Viduka in a 6-1 win at Charlton, Apr 2003— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) October 23, 2020
His only previous career hat-trick was against Leeds, for Middlesbrough in March 2018 pic.twitter.com/BUZlS2deoN
No further proof is needed - Bamford is built for the Premier League, and there is a reason he is a mainstay in Bielsa’s starting 11. Having developed his finishing, he is making up for missed chances by truly shining in the Premier League.
2 - Alioski has staked his claim for more first team minutes.
Injuries to defensive trio Cooper, Phillips and Diego Llorente forced Bielsa’s hand in fielding a makeshift defence at Villa Park, and Alioski took his opportunity to impress at left-back with open arms.
The North Macedonia international linked up well with Harrison as Leeds made regular inroads down the left wing, attempting three crosses and completing three key passes with an 80 percent passing accuracy.
Gjanni Alioski vs. Aston Villa:— LUFCDATA (@LUFCDATA) October 23, 2020
28/35 successful passes
9/12 successful final third passes
3 chances created
3 ball recoveries
3 ground duels won
3 times fouled
2 aerial duels won
1 big chance created
Huge performance. pic.twitter.com/Q6mkzS3ts8
Largely coming out on top in his battle with Egypt international Trezeguet - who was substituted off in the 66th minute - Alioski also delivered a solid defensive and positional display which could give Bielsa something to think about going forward.
The 28-year-old will certainly remain in first team contention in the coming weeks, and should somewhat ease fans’ fears of future first team injuries. Leeds currently possess a versatile squad, and Alioski is among the most useful utility men.
3 - Ayling is a leader and can perform at his best even out of position.
While playing at centre-back is far from unusual to Luke Ayling, being on the left side of central defence is not something he would have been too familiar with going into last night’s contest.
Even so, the stand-in captain put in a marvellous display, and proved himself to be among the best leaders in Bielsa’s roster; no Leeds player won more than his five aerial duels, and no one on the pitch blocked more shots (3) than the 29-year-old.
Indeed, Ayling quite literally stood between the hosts and a potential path to victory when he blocked Jack Grealish’s shot off the line while the scores were level, and a goal at that point would have completely changed the direction of the game.
Other than the loss of possession that led to Grealish’s chance, the Arsenal academy product did not put a foot wrong, and his leadership made up for the absence of Cooper. It was not surprising to see Bielsa singing Ayling’s praises in the post-match interview.
4 - Struijk will be disappointed, but Shackleton grasped his unexpected opportunity with both hands
The injury sustained by Phillips late on in the defeat to Wolves on Monday was met with dismay by some fans, and much of the following days’ discussion was dictated by Pascal Struijk, and whether he would be able to fill the boots of the Yorkshire Pirlo.
Having impressed in holding midfield towards the end of last season, and putting in workmanlike displays against Liverpool and Wolves, few expected to see the 21-year-old depart after just 21 minutes.
Really wise move from Marcelo Bielsa to replace Pascal Struijk with Jamie Shackleton. A walking red card if ever we’ve seen one. Good lesson for the youngster. #LUFC— LUFCDATA (@LUFCDATA) October 23, 2020
Already on a yellow card and edging closer to a potential dismissal, Marcelo Bielsa was taking no chances, and Jamie Shackleton came on to make his first appearance since the opening day - we may be seeing more of him over the upcoming fixtures judging by his performance.
The 21-year-old looked extremely positive in possession, and his pace was invaluable to the visitors as they looked to hit Villa on the counter. Bamford’s third goal came as a result of Shackleton linking up well with Helder Costa in the Villa area, as he used his quick thinking to complete a deft one-two with his Portuguese counterpart.
His defensive display was also noteworthy, despite the fact he did not directly replace Struijk, as he won one tackle and completed two interceptions.
Every single player was brilliant. Bamford will get the headlines but a special mention for Jamie Shackleton who since coming on for Struijk has breezed through the game. First Premier League appearance, still only 21 and always looks so comfortable. #LUFC— FocusOnLeeds (@FocusOnLeeds) October 23, 2020
His final product was the only aspect of his game that he lacked, as a couple of promising runs ended with Shackleton losing possession. However, this should not sway Bielsa from handing the youngster further opportunities - indeed, the arrival of Rodrigo and failed attempt to sign Michael Cuisance from Bayern Munich placed question marks over the midfielder’s value to the first team.
Do not expect the sudden first half change to become a permanent fixture while Phillips is unavailable, though. Struijk is likely to be handed another chance to shine in holding midfield, and his two accurate long balls and 93 percent passing accuracy prove that Bielsa’s decision to take him off was not down to the player’s performance; indeed, it was a decision that likely kept 11 green and blue shirts on the pitch (well, 10 - Illan Meslier doesn’t wear one).
5 - Klich can be trusted in holding midfield
If Struijk is given a break from first team football, Mateusz Klich is the man to turn to. He may not be the hard-tackling, midfield engine that Kalvin Phillips is, but the 30-year-old has reinforced the fact that he can do the job after briefly featuring as a holding midfielder in the Wolves defeat earlier this week.
Dropping deeper after Shackleton entered the fray against Villa, the Poland international went on to deliver an all-round display, making the most touches (82) and completing the most passes (52) on the pitch, while making his presence known in both defensive and offensive situations.
Mateusz Klich vs. Aston Villa:— LUFCDATA (@LUFCDATA) October 23, 2020
85.3% pass accuracy
82 touches (most on pitch )
52/61 succ. passes (most on pitch )
23/28 succ. final third passes (most on pitch )
9 ball recoveries
5 ground duels won
3 chances created
2 tackles won
While Struijk did not necessarily perform badly before his early exit, his booking in the opening stages left him vulnerable, and his lack of first team experience became more exposed. Klich’s switching of roles massively eased the pressure on Leeds defensively, and enabled them to resume their high intensity approach to winning the ball back.
Contributing across the pitch, Klich dealt admirably with the physical demands of ensuring Leeds had the numbers to drown possession from the hosts in his defensive third before overcrowding the defence at the opposite end of the pitch. This highlights how the skills he harnesses while playing in an more advanced role are transferable, making him more suited to the Kalvin Phillips role than one may have thought.
6 - Harrison can ride the waves with Leeds, even if they achieve their European dreams
Jack Harrison may never feature for Manchester City, but he has the potential to remain a star player for Leeds, even if the club achieves its long term aim of becoming a regular feature in European competitions.
The 23-year-old was one of the standout performers in the Bielsa masterclass against Villa, completing five key passes and five crosses while proving to be a menace for the highly rated Matty Cash to deal with.
Jack Harrison vs. Aston Villa:— LUFCDATA (@LUFCDATA) October 23, 2020
80.6% pass accuracy
29/26 successful passes
18/22 successful final third passes
9 touches in the box
5 chances created
3 ball recoveries
2 successful take-ons
2 tackles won
1 shot on-target
Absolutely magnificent. pic.twitter.com/cTPz6Sd5cK
While it was difficult to separate the sides after a relatively even first half, the winger shone throughout the affair, creating two big opportunities by picking out Bamford’s runs between the defenders in the opening 45 minutes.
Having deserved at least one assist before the interval, he became more of a goalscoring threat himself afterwards, and an attempt to recreate his Liverpool goal by dribbling past multiple defenders before firing on goal resulted in a save from Martinez in-between the sticks.
Jack Harrison The Conservative Party— Tom Victor (@tomvictor) October 23, 2020
Acting like Cash isn’t there
Lively, excellent with the ball at his feet and a creator as well as a taker of chances, Harrison has already achieved so much at Elland Road - yet his future looks even brighter still.
Which player (besides Patrick Bamford) impressed you the most during the 3-0 win over Aston Villa?
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