There have been many words used to describe Gjanni Alioski during his time at Elland Road, both positive and negative, but rarely has a performance yielded the following: Calm, composed, level-headed. In fact, you’d be inclined to think no one has ever described him as such since birth.
That is until the final whistle blew in Leeds United’s outstanding 3-1 win against Tottenham Hotspur - a win which means Leeds are now unbeaten at home against all of the ‘big six’ this season, conceding just three goals.
There was not one single poor performance (in a white shirt anyway) in the win, and goals from Patrick Bamford, Stuart Dallas and Rodrigo tipped off a team performance for which you would struggle to find one better this season.
There was some skepticism, pre-match, and the news that Spurs were starting a front four of Heung-Min Son, Dele Alli, Gareth Bale and Harry Kane significantly increased it. Bale bagged a hat-trick in a 4-0 win against Sheffield United last weekend as his side produced a storming performance against the relegated side. Today he didn’t manage so much as a shot on target before being taken off on 67 minutes.
It was that man Alioski, in the eye of a potential Spurs attacking tornado, that emerged. Calm, composed, level-headed.
In stark contrast to last week’s 2-0 defeat at Brighton, in which he gave away an early penalty during a chaotic blur of poor defending and rash decision making, the North Macedonia international cut an unrecognisably more experienced, intelligent figure.
He nullified one of the most dangerous players in Premier League history - understandably, not as he used to be - in Bale, reducing the Real Madrid loanee to just a single blocked shot, two successful dribbles, one cross and zero key passes. In the remaining 23 minutes his replacement, Lucas Moura, failed to produce a single shot, with just one key pass and one cross to his name.
It was - you guessed it - Alioski who produced a more significant attacking display than either of his counterparts, combining brilliantly with Jack Harrison for both of Leeds’ first-half goals.
On 13 minutes he spread a sumptuous cross-field ball to Stuart Dallas, setting the wheels in motion for the opener. As the ball worked it’s way back to the left-hand side, Alioski slipped the ball down the line for Harrison, who whipped in a menacing cross. It may well have been an Sergio Reguilon own goal had it not been for the first of many outstanding saves from Hugo Lloris - both he and Illan Meslier produced world-class saves on multiple occasions. Instead it was another goal for Stuart Dallas, charging in and smashing the ball into the net from close range.
Spurs’ equaliser came down Leeds’ left just 12 minutes later, as Alli’s flicked through ball evaded Diego Llorente and Luke Ayling before finding Son who slotted home. A glance at the replay would frame Alioski as guilty of not tracking Son’s run. Look again. See Bale also in picture making a run of his own. See Ayling get sucked inside as his man powers through behind him. Alioski, not guilty.
Leeds’ 2nd came once again down the left-hand side - it’s no coincidence that Leeds dominated the side in which Serge Aurier was given no help from Bale - and this time Alioski was directly involved, bombing past Harrison in typical fashion before pausing, composing, contemplating, and then picking out the predatory Bamford to tap home from three yards.
And in the 84th minute, after looking on as Bale left the pitch dejected and nullifying Moura to the extent he was barely mentioned, it was Alioski once again nicking the ball from the Brazilian and starting the counter that ultimately led to Rodrigo’s goal, securing all three points for Marcelo Bielsa’s side.
When asked about Alioski’s performance, Bielsa said: “He’s a player with a lot of experience. He’s been playing at the left back position for a while. With more better than worse performances. He’s improved a lot in decision making.”.
Earlier in the week, in the pre-match press conference, he was asked about the potential of Alioski signing a new contract at Elland Road this summer. “I don’t have it clear what decision Alioski is going to take.” he said. “If Alioski continues with us I would be satisfied. But that will be decided by Alioski and the club.”
And to be honest, amongst all the hysteria of last week’s loss and the mass exodus that some demanded, I would also be satisfied if Alioski stayed. Not as first-choice left-back. Maybe not left-back at all. But here, as part of the squad.
The minutes, however, cannot be guaranteed, and will almost definitely be significantly reduced. Alioski is at a stage in his career where he needs regular playing time, and if he has to leave West Yorkshire to do so then he will leave as a treasured member of a legendary squad.
Ultimately, Bielsa was spot on. That is to be decided by Alioski himself.