Leeds 2 – Rotherham 0: Five Takeaways

History was made at Elland Road on Saturday, as Marcelo Bielsa became the first Leeds United manager/head coach to win his first four games in charge. In truth, it was a scrappy win, but it keeps the run of victories rolling on, which was the primary objective before the game. Leeds has two huge away games against Swansea and Norwich coming up next week. It will be the first time Bielsa and his staff will have experienced the two-match week in the Championship. The signs look good that Leeds and Bielsa are ready for the challenge.

Here are my views on the win over Rotherham:-

  • The influence of Klich: –  Mateusz Klich has been the star performer over the first three league wins for Marcelo Bielsa’s side. He is the perfect example of a modern box to box midfielder who possesses an eye for goal. Klich broke the line a few times and set up the best Leeds attacking chances in the first half. He made numerous attacking runs beyond the ball in the second half which played a vital role in opening up the Rotherham defence. Kalvin Phillips, Samu Saiz along with Klich have re-enforced the central zone of the Leeds team. It is essential that Leeds can keep these three players fit, sharp and motivated as they will be critical for any sustained automatic promotion challenge.
  • Goalkeeper and defence: – Bailey Peacock-Farrell put in an excellent performance in the first half, and it appears he has moved on from the error at Derby. He made a superb save to deny Rotherham a sure goal early in the game, and I think his distribution improved from last week. He was commanding from set pieces and kept his first clean sheet of the season. He has now firmly established himself as the first choibielsace goalkeeper. Luke Ayling and Barry Douglas have started the season superbly and are without a doubt the best combination of fullbacks in the Championship. Liam Cooper has been excellent and had led by example. He made one significant error which should have resulted in a Rotherham goal, but he didn’t let it shake his confidence for the remainder of the game Gaetano Berardi has been a revelation in his centre back position. Despite making one noteworthy error in the Stoke win, he has performed superbly and has rightly kept Pontus Janson on the bench. My one criticism is that the better sides in the Championship will punish Leeds for the mistakes resulting from too much play in the back. I know they are encouraged to build attacks from the defence, but sometimes you need to clear your lines and regroup.
  • Bielsa’s game plan:- To be fair, Rotherham put up a stern test in the first half. They forced the Leeds attackers inside and to hit high crosses into Kemar Roofe. I was screaming at my laptop for Alioski and Douglas to hit low hard crosses across the box to give Roofe and Klich a better chance of Bielsa made one notable tactical change at half time which helped break down the Rotherham defensive set up. He had the wingers, and fullbacks hug the touchline to give the much-needed width. The players have been excellent at short intricate passing moves around the opposition boxes in all games so far this season. The pace of the passing and movement was evident from Alioski’s low hard cross at the start of the second half. Leeds controlled all aspects of the match in the second half and proved to be deserving winners in the end.
  • End of game Stats:- Leeds finished their latest win with an incredible 74% possession and 84% pass accuracy. The last Leeds side to try and achieve those kinds of passing stats was Gary McAllister’s side in League One. Leeds had 17 shots on goal with 8 hitting the target. I cannot remember a Leeds team having that much attacking dominance since the early 2000’s. It is brilliant to watch, and I hope that they will get even better as the season progresses.
  • Changes to the starting eleven:- Tuesday’s trip to Wales to face Swansea will be the first big midweek test for Bielsa and his staff. I wonder if they will make some personnel changes to freshen up the side. It is a tricky conundrum, but I think we might see Pontus Janson start the game. Samu Saiz looked slightly fatigued before he was taken off and Kemar Roofe is said to have picked up a knock. It will be fascinating to see Bielsa’s selection policy for will be for this game. I watched Swansea draw away at Birmingham on Friday. I thought they looked quite ordinary and they should have lost that game. If Leeds can keep up the pressing, intensity and focus, they should have a great chance of extending the winning start to the season.

Derby 1 – Leeds 4 – Five Takeaways

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 angoald 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. roofeHis 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.