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Dominant: Leeds’ defensive display laid the foundation for an outstanding win against The Villa

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Last nights plaudits will centre around hat-trick hero Paddy Bamford, but a clean sheet for a chopped and changed back line feels just as good this Saturday, as we go into the weekend with the job already done.

Aston Villa v Leeds United - Premier League
Mateusz Klich overpowering Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish during an outstanding all round display.
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Last nights trip to Villa Park saw Leeds United frontman Patrick Bamford bag his first hat-trick since netting three against Leeds for Middlesbrough in 2017, and Leeds’ first Premier League hat-trick since Mark Viduka against Charlton Athletic in 2003.

The pundits will rightly heap the praise on the Whites attack, Jack Harrison and Bamford in particular. They will applaud the consistency to which 2v1’s were created in wide positions with overlapping full-backs. They will commend the bravery and commitment to push numbers forward, even as late as the 95th minute when Leeds broke from their own penalty area and ended up with seven players in or around Aston Villa’s box. Also, they will rightly hail Lord Bamford as the man that made the difference.

All welcome praise, of course, but will they highlight the clean sheet? Will they give credit to the defensive line that was missing both their club captain, and midfield general? Will they laud over a back four, of which only one of the back four played in the same position on Monday night against Wolves, keeping the in form team and one of this season’s most dynamic attacks silent? they should...

Aston Villa v Leeds United - Premier League
A dejected Jack Grealish after a dominant display from opposite number Stuart Dallas.
Photo by Nick Potts - Pool/Getty Images

As mentioned initially, Leeds’ back line (back four and defensive midfielder) were. bar Robin Koch, playing in a different position against Wolves, or not playing at all. With Kalvin Phillips injured, Pascal Struijk moved up from centre-back into defensive midfield, and after an early yellow card he was replaced by Jamie Shackleton to make his first real Premier League impact, subsequently moving Mateusz Klich into deeper role. The Dutchman’s move further forward, coupled with injuries to Liam Cooper and Diego Llorente brought Luke Ayling into left sided centre-back alongside Robin Koch. Stuart Dallas made the switch from left-back to right-back and Ezgjan Alioski started at left-back for the first time in a Premier League game.

They looked, however, like a back four that had been playing together for years. Captain Luke Ayling marshalled the defence as confidently in the middle as he does from the right. A lapse in early concentration was mopped up instantly when Ayling lost the ball in the defensive third, before appearing behind Ilian Meslier to block a Jack Grealish shot off the line. This was Ayling’s only wobble. The captain made 3 blocks and won 4 aerial duels in what was a warrior like performance, or more significantly, a Cooper like performance, standing in as the gritty and aggressive centre-half seamlessly.

Partner for the night Robin Koch once again proved himself to be an unbelievably good value purchase, sometimes switching with Ayling across to his unnatural left sided centre-back position, but still fulfilling his natural role as the mobile, ball-playing, slick modern defender. The German international made the most successful interceptions on the pitch (5), consistently nicking in front of Ollie Watkins in typical fashion to win possession and become the catalyst for Leeds’ rapid counter-attacks. Koch also completed 46 passes, 3 clearances, won 1 aerial duel, and impressively committed zero fouls.

Aston Villa v Leeds United - Premier League
Captain Luke Ayling and centre-back partner Robin Koch marshalled the defence superbly both on the ground and in the air.
Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

For the goals, the game was won up-front. Tactically, the game was won on the flanks, more specifically at full-back. Leeds found endless joy as Jack Grealish and Trezeguet (later Bertrand Traore) failed to track their marauding opposite numbers in Stuart Dallas and Gjanni Alioski respectively. Two typically energetic performances from both men who bombed up and down their wings as if it was the last game they’ll ever play.

Stuart Dallas was tasked with nullifying one of the Premier League’s in form players so far this season in Jack Grealish. Undoubtably a fantastic and exciting talent who will cause problems for full-backs all season long. However Grealish was reduced to scraps for the majority of the game, only coming to light once with a brilliant mazy run from his own half. A weak penalty claim, a night of frustration, and a yellow card for dissent was the cherry on the cake for Jack Grealish who will be happy to see the back of Dallas.

On the other side Gjanni Alioski came in and his quality shone through the brightest in the attacking third of the pitch. The North Macedonia international was typically dogged in defence and never let Trezeguet or Bertrand Traore find easy space out wide, but it was his commitment to attack, and quality on the ball that pleased the eye. The left-back completed 9 successful final third passes from 12 attempts, and created 3 chances with masterful crosses into Patrick Bamford who, unfortunately for Alioski, couldn’t convert. He also won 3 ground duels, 2 aerial duels, and managed 3 ball recoveries in a fantastic all-round display.

Dropping into the deep-lying role was Mateusz Klich, who has been outstanding in every game this season and once again proved his value to the team as he dropped deep following Shackleton’s introduction. A role not usually filled by the Poland international but one he has proved himself to be more than capable of playing.

Topping the stats for most touches (82), most successful passes (52), and most successful final third passes (23), Klich advanced further forward than Phillips usually does in the knowledge that his never fading energy would get him back into position without conceding too much space to Ross Barkley. Numbers once again prove his defensive efforts, managing 9 ball recoveries, 5 duels and 2 tackles, suffocating Villa’s playmaker from start to finish. An energy typified by his burst forward alongside six of his teammates in the 95th minute to try to make it four. And an attitude typified by the screams of “Jack!” when Harrison fired into the side netting instead of cutting it back.

The idea that we have two international centre-backs and an England international defensive midfielder to come back in the (hopefully) near future will fill Marcelo Bielsa with promise of the defensive solidarity that lacked early on, as we adapted to the Premier League. What will please him even more is the knowledge that his core players can adapt and excel in the face of potential adversity.

The match-ball and the plaudits rightly go to Bamford, but these guys will enjoy their weekend knowing they were all outstanding. Who impressed you most in the defensive half of the field? Let us know your opinion over @ThruItAllLUFC or in the comments below.