Leeds United’s draw with Leicester City on Sunday afternoon may have felt like just another frustrating game where the Whites had done more than enough to take all three points. But in hindsight, the result was unquestionably the best performance of the season, with Leeds typically a side immersed in high energetic spirit and looking well and truly revived from any early-season concerns.
In the weekend the sold-out Elland Road faithful pledged their remembrance to the contributions of the World War Two servicemen and women, a match that would have slotted straight into Leeds’ chaotic debut season in the Premier League last year swiftly ensued. Heading into the clash on the back of only their second win of the season, against a lacklustre, bottom-placed Norwich City, Marcelo Bielsa’s squad finally had some momentum before playing Leicester City - in a fixture that generated an enthralling nine goals between the two games played during last year’s COVID infested season.
As ever, the match showed no real indication of control in the opening minutes as three convincing shots and a penalty shout for each side later no doubt left the home crowd feeling perplexed at where this relentless Leeds side had been for the last thirteen weeks. But eventually, the opener came, when the consistently brilliant Brazilian winger and often linchpin in this Leeds team, Raphinha, put the Whites ahead through a low driven free-kick sending almost all thirty-six and a half thousand in attendance at Elland Road into europhia.
Barely a moment had gone by before Leicester winger Harvey Barnes had begun celebrating with the other part of the thirty-six thousand after curling in a perfectly-struck equaliser just 73 seconds later. Despite VAR later ruling out a goal for the visitors for offside, Leeds had been convincing, back dominating quality opposition, finally playing with the kind of intensity Bielsa so invariably demands, and leaving the field feeling frustrated with merely a point against an established Premier League and UEFA Europa League outfit - a totally different feeling to just weeks earlier.
Yet, was this performance really much of a surprise? Regardless of questions surrounding Leeds United’s early-season results, the West Yorkshire club were tenth in the form table prior to the clash with Leicester, with the third-best defensive record in the league behind Arsenal and Chelsea, and only three points worse off than where they were this time last year in what was deemed a revolutionary return to the Premier League. But in contrast, Leeds look better equipped this season: a squad with now a year of Premier League experience, a squad featuring a recent record seventeen international players (including six from the youth teams), a fastidious-working world-class manager, and now a habitually sold-out Elland Road to go with it, with not even a fully fit squad to choose from. In reality, Bielsa’s impervious nature has made his headstrong Leeds side unfazed in the face of orthodox Premier League teams, so much that almost a year ago to date Leeds were thrashed 4-1 at home by a Leicester City side that looked irreconcilable in contrast.
It’s nothing but credit to the Argentine’s infallible mentality that has echoed through the club’s core since he took over in 2018, generating immense stability that for years has felt unthinkable within what was the perpetual managerial merry-go-round at LS11. But since, Bielsa has imposed genuine style, engendering Kalvin Phillips into an England regular, Raphinha into one of the most exciting players across England’s elite division, and now after seven-hundred days since playing a league game, returning midfielder Adam Forshaw was trusted with a Premier League start and was utterly magnificent in dictating the game.
With now a two-week international break separating Leeds from a highly anticipated away fixture against Antonio Conte’s Tottenham Hotspur next time out in the league, maybe the Whites have finally turned a corner this season, or perhaps Bielsa’s resilient Leeds side, as often the case, were never really a team to doubt.
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