After sixteen long, turbulent, often chaotic and always entertaining years, Leeds United returned to the Premier League against current champions Liverpool. Granted, Leeds had played exquisite football the year before under the second year of management from ‘El Loco’, local legend Marcelo Bielsa, but the widely presumed outcome of this initial fixture was that the reigning title holders would steamroll a side which has come out of the Championship with many players who are regarded as solid second division choices that may easily become overwhelmed with the standard of elite level football.
This aforementioned predicted baptism of fire couldn’t have been further from reality.
Central defender Robin Koch had an interesting start to his Leeds career, with a harsh penalty decision being given against him for a deflected handball, and then lapsing in concentration at an out-swinging corner enabling Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk to profit from both errors.
Leeds though, showed their notorious high-pressing, quick in the transition play, which Bielsa has pioneered throughout his career, to their full capability. Recent England debutant and aptly nicknamed Kalvin ‘Yorkshire Pirlo’ Phillips provided a delightful cross field pass, much akin to that of an NFL quarterback, to Jack Harrison, who drove through the heart of the champions defence and drilled it in the bottom corner. Liverpool had a game on their hands.
Patrick Bamford, who many had written off at the top level, preceded to capitalise on a defensive error and level the game up at 2-2. Salah quickly intervened to volley a sublime effort into the roof of the net moments later, and Liverpool went into the break with a slender lead. After the restart, the Whites fluid passing, high full backs and unrelenting effort flustered the champions, with Mateusz Klich finishing a fine passing move to once again level the match at 3-3. If it wasn’t for £27 million record signing Rodrigo’s heavy-handed and ill-judged penalty box tackle in the dying embers of the game (oh so typical of a striker), Leeds would have returned to Elland Road with an impressive draw against the best team in the country.
One week later, Bielsa’s men came up against fellow promoted side Fulham, looking to turn their recent outstanding performance into points on the board. 4-3 was the outcome once more but this time it was Leeds United’s day, with their undying attacking momentum barraging an unequipped Fulham backline. Bamford and Klich once again got on the scoresheet, with Helder Costa adding a nicely taken brace to see off the first Premier League game at Elland Road in well over a decade and a half as a home win.
Despite the best efforts of one-man battering ram Aleksander Mitrovic securing two goals of his own, Fulham were overwhelmed and Leeds could be declared as officially up and running in the top flight. To the victor belong the spoils.
It is evidently easy to become wrapped up in the romance of their return to the Premier League, and the bottom line is that there is a long road ahead for a side that lacks squad depth in many areas. That being said, if anyone can tactically dictate and motivate a crop of hard-working, enthusiastic and talented individuals, it’s Marcelo Bielsa. The Argentine, who inspired the philosophies of Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino to name a few, is a welcome addition to the top division, both in character and style of play.
It needn’t be questioned as to whether the city is behind their team, and fans will undoubtedly be watching eagerly, passionately throughout the rest of the campaign. For local fans, the opportunity to go back to Elland Road in full capacity is unfortunately not on the near horizon due to the Coronavirus pandemic, and a date of return is unclear. One thing is clear, Leeds United will be an entertaining watch this season, win, lose or draw. Next up is a Yorkshire derby against ‘down the road’ Sheffield United. Bielsa’s men prepare once again for battle.
Image Credit: BBC News