Leeds returned to the top of the Championship with a three-nil demolition of Norwich on Saturday. The result was Leeds biggest ever win at Carrow Road. The performances of Pablo Hernandez and Kalvin Phillips were nothing short of spectacular. The clinical finishing for the three goals showcased the dramatic increase in performance level from all the players compared to last season.
Here are my five takeaways from the victory: –
Pablo Hernandez: – Marcelo Bielsa was full of praise for the diminutive Spaniard in his after-match interviews on Saturday and lauded his immense impact on and off the pitch. Since in his arrival in 2016, Hernandez has been the creative spark in the Leeds midfield with his guile and ingenuity continually unlocking Championship defences. Hernandez and his Spanish compatriot are thriving under the tutelage of “El Loco”. When the team was under pressure at Swansea last Tuesday, Hernandez stood up and scored the late equaliser. His performance at Carrow Road was nothing short of phenomenal. He continually found space “between the lines” and played a pivotal role in two of the goals. He recovered the ball six times from Norwich players and completed 18 of 21 attempted passes in the final third. The clipped cross to find Alioski at the back post was sublime while his goal rightly received the “Goal of the Day” on Sky Sports News. It’s imperative that Pablo Hernandez stays fit if Leeds are to continue to fight for automatic promotion.
Kalvin Phillips: – I must admit that I was not the biggest fan of Kalvin Phillips over the past few seasons. I felt that he was a decent Championship player but under the new coaching set up, he has raised his performance level to new heights and I am very happy to be proved wrong. The young Leeds native showed no signs of petulance after his early substitution at the Liberty Stadium. I think he deserves a huge amount of credit for the level of maturity he demonstrated, and he silenced the doubters with his magnificent display against the Canaries. Phillips made two crucial defensive interventions in first half stoppage time to keep the two-nil lead intact. But what I was most impressed was his late blocking tackle to ensure Leeds left East Anglia with a much-deserved clean sheet.
Bielsa’s Man-management: – The standard of attacking football being played by this Leeds squad is sheer ecstasy to watch. However, what is just as impressive in my view is the new level of resilience and self confidence that has been instilled within the playing squad. Samu Saiz has shown none of the childish behaviour which ruined the second half of last season for him while Kemar Roofe looks like a new player. Kalvin Phillips has consistently shown a level of mental strength of more seasoned professional. Mateusz Klich’s return to Leeds following his banishment under Tomas Christensen has resulted in an international recall. This is further proof that Bielsa and his staff have made serious progress in fixing the mental fragility which was evident throughout last season.
Leeds Match Stats: – Leeds have broken all kinds of passing records so far this season. According to @LUFCDATA (every Leeds should be following) on Twitter, Leeds are first in the Championship rankings for the highest average pass accuracy, highest average possession, most passes per game, most successful short passes per game and best goal difference. This is quantifiable evidence of the effect Bielsa has made to this squad and the club. There is not much more I can add about these surreal numbers.
The top of the table meeting at Elland Road on Friday sees the clash of footballing philosophies and styles. The “old school” British architype manager Tony Pulis and his Middleborough team will be the latest Championship side to try and find a method to stop Marcelo Bielsa’s attacking game plan. This will be a tough game and I expect Teeside club to try and bully the Leeds players. Patience from the players and fans will be important and you can expect Boro to park the bus. Leeds will be buoyed by their start to the season and will be confident of continuing their run of home wins