The way Leeds utterly destroyed Derby was the best Leeds performance I have witnessed since the 3-0 quarterfinal win over Deportivo in the Champions League. I imagine every Leeds fan everywhere across the globe woke up this morning with a massive spring in their step and a gigantic smile on their face. The performance last night was unreal to watch. The win over Stoke came as a pleasant surprise, but the way the team systematically dismantled an expensively assembled Derby side on their patch was breath-taking.
Here are five thoughts I had about the performance and implications moving forward:
1.Game plan and Tactics: Sky’s match analyser Stephen Warnock (excellent pundit I thought) stated clearly after the game that Bielsa had a game plan and Derby did not. Bielsa indicated on Thursday how he would set up his team. Frank Lampard took no notice. Leeds upped their intensity and pressing in comparison to the win over Stoke. They swarmed the Derby players, broke up attacks and got the ball to Saiz and Hernandez on the counter-attack on multiple occasions. Kalvin Phillips had 87% pass accuracy which was the best of any player on the pitch. He keeps it simple and is vastly improved. He will play a vital role when the midweeks start.
2.Saiz: What more can you say about this gem of a player? I doubted his attitude, not his ability. Bielsa has unleashed him to run riot and has changed his mental approach. A stern work rate has replaced his childish antics. If he can keep consistently playing to the level he has shown so far, he will be the player of the season in the Championship. Pep Guardiola and Bielsa divide the pitch into zones or half-spaces. Saiz understands that his best position is to occupy the centre zones of the field, but he can drift wide when the occasion requires it too. When he does, Hernandez moved inside. It’s very fluid and shows Bielsa’s level of detail. Saiz has got between the lines of the midfield and centre-backs in both games. In the second half on both wins, Joe Allen and Bradley Johnson where individually deployed to stop the space that Saiz was roaming around. Both players failed spectacularly. Saiz is the key to the transition from defence to attack, and all rivals managers will undoubtedly try to keep him out of the game.
3. Roofe’s work rate and movement: Patrick Bamford beware because Kemar Roofe is not giving his starting spot any time soon. The improvement in Roofe’s level of performance is staggering. His work rate has been phenomenal, and the way he chased down and tracked back was a joy to watch. The way he ran back to dispossess Richard Keogh in the first half was typical of his new attitude. The leap and timing of his jump for the second Leeds goal was a thing of beauty. The pin-point cross from Alioski was excellent, and the header was gloriously guided into the net. His movement for a lone striker is terrific. It reminds me of Gabriel Jesus. Always moving and giving options for Saiz and Hernandez. His second goal showed he wants to score goals and become the mainstay of the team. I think he will, and he looks a good each-way bet at 20/1 for Championship top scorer.
4.Derby Goal: The free kick was well hit, but a professional goalie has to save it. The wall was not in the correct position, and Bailey Peacock-Farrell couldn’t see the ball until it was past him. However, it was the only error he made. He mopped up well behind the defence, and he will learn from his mistake. The pressure from Jamal Blackman could be the making of the young lad. I would not write him off just yet.
5.The hype builds: Naturally, the hype is going to develop amongst the supporters that an automatic promotion challenge is on the cards. Considering the disastrous way that numerous owners have run the club for the past 15 years, no-one can begrudge the fans getting overly excited. I was like a child on Christmas morning after the game last night. I am expecting the team to push for the Premier League. It is important to note that Bielsa won’t be getting carried away with the hype. The fact that he had three of Forest Green’s matches taped in pre-season shows his incredible attention to detail. I have no doubt he will keep the players focused. I believe the players will be wary of getting carried away. On September 12th last year they were top of the league. The performance against the first decent team they played away at Millwall shows the mental fragility of some of the players, and when they pitifully lost at Cardiff, I knew the season was doomed. The after match interviews yesterday were more measured compared to last year, and Bielsa appears to have instilled not only a change in tactical awareness but a mental toughness that we sorely lacked last season. I for one can’t wait to see how we play against Rotherham next Saturday. I know I’m not the only fan who can’t wait.