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Adam Forshaw’s return sparks Leeds United of old

After over two-years away from a starting lineup the Whites midfielder looked like he’d never been away.

Leeds United v Leicester City - Premier League
Adam Forshaw’s return to the starting-eleven 771 days rejuvenated a lost Leeds United.
Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

Maybe Andrea Radrizzani was right all along...

All jokes aside, the return of Adam Forshaw - 771-days since last starting a league game for Leeds United - was nothing short of a miracle.

Marcelo Bielsa labelled the comeback “a prize for his perseverance”, praising the determination of both Forshaw and all those who helped him along the way.

“He spent two years without playing. He never gave up. Also, to give value to all those who collaborated with his recovery.

“It’s very difficult to come back to this level after two years out. More than any consideration, Forshaw got this by himself.”

Since his last start at home to Swansea in August 2019, the 30-year-old had exacerbated a long-running hip injury, gone through numerous complex surgeries and suffered a relentless rehabilitation process punctuated with setbacks, muscle pulls and cruel social media antics.

“What’s an Adam Forshaw?”

That was an Adam Forshaw.

During the build-up, this did seem like the game to do it. Steady starts in the Carabao Cup against Crewe Alexandra and Arsenal, coupled with a positive influence off the bench at Norwich, and you would think that if Forshaw was ever going to contribute to the side then it has to be now.

The ease with which he acclimatised to the pace of a frantic game laid bare the ‘Bielsa-like’ qualities still so clearly present in the midfielder: energy, ball-retention, link-up play.

As Leeds dominated possession the Forshaw provided constant passing angles out from defence and provided an alternative option to Kalvin Phillips - one that has been sorely missed. On the ball, there was a composure and sharpness that quite frankly beggars belief for someone who has been so out of touch of full-throttle football.

Out of possession - against a midfield of Wilfred Ndidi, Boubakary Soumaré and Youri Tielemans - he added stability and discipline and stopped Phillips from becoming overrun, as seen so often over the last two seasons.

Forshaw not only shone himself but provided the catalyst for those around him to excel. Granted, this is one very small sample to take from but having a solid Forshaw-Phillips base liberated Rodrigo in an attacking sense whilst loosening the burden on his poor pressing.

An additional passing link in midfield allowed Leeds to actually progress the ball in a controlled manner, often finding Rodrigo in the pockets of space he frequents so intelligently.

And an additional level of composure and press resistance added calm to an otherwise frantic midfield battle - the old adage that the ball sometimes seems glued to hit feet seems apt, although a moment of panic nearing the full-time whistle stopped many a heart, even if just for a beat.

Forshaw’s presence brought an assuredness to the entire team and it may be no coincidence that this was Leeds’ best performance of the season by far - In addition to Phillips and Rodrigo, Stuart Dallas looked back to his former self, Diego Llorente dominated Jamie Vardy and Raphinha did as Raphinha does.

The emotion was clear to see when, to a standing ovation, Forshaw was subbed off in the 89th minute.

He was beaming with pride in the post-match interview.

He said: “I’d like to say a massive thank you to Rob Price and his team. It’s everyone, really. The strength and conditioning coaches and the manager with the way he has managed me throughout the summer.

“My family and my wife too with helping keep me busy on days when it has been tough at times. I’m just thankful to everybody. I was loving it. I was blowing in the second half, I had a little bit of cramp after 70 odd minutes but it’s in the bank now.”

After such a long and arduous return there will still be questions of fitness for some time, and with small, niggling injuries still very much a possibility it would be remiss to label him the key to the midfield problem.

However, fitness depending, the midfielder offers qualities that no one else in the squad can bring: a calmness in midfield chaos, a link between defence and attack and solidity in an area of the pitch left so vulnerable otherwise.

If major injuries can be fought off and a run of games put together, then Forshaw is still comfortably good enough to make a positive contribution to this team.