Tony Pulis deployed his customary “park the bus” strategy to ensure his team left Elland Road with a share of the spoils on Friday night. Leeds struggled to break down the defensive trio of midfielders who blocked the middle attacking zones of the Middlesbrough half of the pitch. The home side sorely missed the injured Pablo Hernandez. The loss of the creative Spaniard ultimately stifled Samu Saiz, who was man-marked every time he received the ball. All in all the draw was a fair result and Leeds are top of the league and unbeaten heading into the first international break of the season. I believe every Leeds fan would have taken this before the start of August.
Here a bere my five takeaways: –
Bielsa’s Plan A: – Leeds never deviated from their game plan against an ultra-defensive Middlesbrough side and stuck to the “process” which has been the catalyst for their superb start to the campaign. The game panned out nearly exactly how I predicted before kick-off. Tony Pulis blocked the centre of the pitch and forced Leeds out wide on numerous occasions. The lack of a physical presence in the forward line meant that many of the balls coming from the flanks were cleared by one of Middlesbrough’s extremely tall back three. Usually, I don’t talk about the performance of the referee, but Tim Robinson gave an awful display. George Friend should have been at least booked for this lunge on Jack Harrison in the first half. I hope he does not referee anymore Leeds games this season. The absence of Pablo Hernandez meant that Leeds was crucial to Leeds failing to knit their short passing together on a regular basis., Marcelo Bielsa intimated in his press conference after the match that Leeds must find better solutions to break down the defensive teams in the Championship. It will be fascinating to see the tactical changes that the Argentine develops moving forward.
Substitutions: – I watched the game in a pub with at least thirty Leeds fans in Dublin, and each fan was clambering for Bamford to come off the bench in the final quarter. Leeds made their three substitutions in the last five minutes, and while Patrick Bamford did win a free kick in a dangerous position late on, the three substitutes had little or no time to make any meaningful impacts on the match. Marcelo Bielsa is a much smarter person that I will ever be, and I’m not going to criticise him, but it would be a worry that he didn’t trust his squad players to come on earlier and influence the game. Bielsa said after the game that he felt it would be too complicated for the substitutes to get up to the pace of the game. I’m slightly alarmed that Bielsa may undermine the confidence of the players who are not currently starting. The team will need all the squad raring to go in the coming months.
Berardi & Peacock-Farrell: – I thought that Gaetano Berardi and Bailey Peacock-Farrell were Leeds best performers last night. Before the game, I was worried when I saw that Pontus Jansson was on the bench given the sheer height of some of the Middlesbrough team. Despite Britt Asombalonga’s header in the first half, Berardi more than justified his starting place for Leeds. I hope that the injury which forced him to come off is not too serious. The young Northern Irish goalkeeper put in a dominant display last night and showed a level of maturity way beyond his years. He came and collected nearly all of the crosses and long balls from the Middlesbrough players and made an excellent save from a deflected back header from Luke Ayling. Both Berardi and Peacock-Farrell will be hard to dislodge from the starting side providing that they can stay injury free in the coming months.
The first month of the season: – It has been an incredible beginning to the Marcelo Bielsa era at Leeds. The past month has been especially exciting with the club earning plaudits across the world for their new attacking style of play. Leeds are no longer a laughing stock amongst the footballing community. Now, I’m well aware that Bielsa has a fiery character, and I could be eating my words this time next year, but it feels that he has grown to have a deep love for the club and the fans in his short period at the club. I firmly believe that as long as he is allowed continue to do the job his way, he will be more than content to stay for a few more years. Leeds look poised for a genuine automatic promotion push for the first time in more than a decade. The long wait for the next game at The Den is sure to be excruciating for Leeds fans everywhere.
Millwall away next: – The next game for Leeds will bring back bad memories for the players and fans from last season. The away trip to Millwall last September marked the beginning of the end of Leeds unbeaten start to Thomas Christensen’s first seven games in charge. The Millwall players bullied the Leeds side for the whole game and the whites never truly recovered from the negative psychological impact of the two-nil loss. Marcelo Bielsa appears to have instilled a new level of mental toughness in this season’s squad. The next game looks set to be the barometer of how far Bielsa has mentally strengthened his set of players. Millwall will no doubt attempt to unsettle and bully the Leeds starting eleven. It will be a massive test of character for the senior players like Liam Cooper and Kalvin Phillips who will need to show an abundance of leadership before and during the game. The challenge looks to be a huge one, but so far this season, this Leeds squad have savoured every problem laid out before them.