|Leeds United 3 v 1 Stoke City|
Sunday, 5th August 2018 Kick-off 16:30
Bielsa era begins with comprehensive victory
Monday, 6th Aug 2018 19:47 by Tim Whelan
The methods of our new head coach made an immediate impact and Stoke City were no match for the pace and fluency of the new Leeds.
I had feared that the start of the Bielsa regime would be something of a damp squib. We had to start against one of the pre-season favorites, with a team who had had little time to get used to the new head coach and his complex tactics, especially the clutch of signings who had only arrived during the past week. Perhaps we’d have to suffer a reverse in this game and try to pick up as the season got going.
I was especially concerned by the defence, with Jansson on the bench after his post World Cup break, leaving a flimsy looking central defensive pairing of Berardi and Cooper. Elsewhere, Douglas was the only new signing to start, though we did have the rare sight of a first team outing for Klich, back from the loan exile imposed by Thomas Christiansen.
But I needn't have worried. Right from the start Leeds were on top, playing intricate passing moves when we had possession, and being very quick to close Stoke down when we didn't. I’d been told that Saiz had looked a bit apathetic in the warm up games, but here he was back to his old self of 12 months ago, working hard and at the heart of all our best moves going forward.
Leeds began at a furious pace, and after only 6 minutes Butland had to produce a smart save to keep out a volley from Roofe, but this only delayed the inevitable. Nine minutes later another great move ended with Saiz slipping a neat ball through to Klich, and the Pole produced a fine chip over the diving Butland to put Leeds in front. I had to look at the linesman before celebrating, but Klich had been onside when the Saiz put him through on goal.
The chances kept coming, but Saiz had a shot blocked, though this time the linesman did flag for offside when it didn’t matter. At the other end Ince sent a fine dipping shot against the bar, but a Stoke equaliser at that point would have been completely against the run of play. Ince was of course mocked for his family connection with you know who.
Cooper also had to be alert to block an effort from Adobe, but apart from that it was all Leeds for the rest of the half. Alioski was denied by another fine Butland save and Roofe sent a shot narrowly wide of the far post. But the second goal was coming and it finally arrived in first half injury time.
Hernandez tried his luck from just outside the box and for once Butland wasn't up to the task. England's second choice keeper let it slip through his grasp into the net, and you could see from his reaction that he knew that he should have kept it out. But a 2-0 lead at the break was the least that Leeds deserved.
I was expecting that Gary Rowett would have to his Stoke team during the break, and I’ve got less than fond memories of the comeback he engineered at Elland Road while managing Derby last season. He’s a tough cookie, and sure enough the visitors at least managed to ensure the second half would be less one sided than the first.
And in the 52nd minute they were presented with an opportunity to get back into the game. Phillips made a hash of a clearance, slicing the ball back towards goal rather than away, and Douglas clattered into the back of Ince. Afobe sent the resulting penalty straight down the middle while Peacock-Farrell dived to his right.
Was all our good work about to be undone? No, Leeds were to re-establish the two goal margin within a couple of minutes. Alioski was hauled down on the Leeds left, but when the foul went unpunished he got to his feet to collect the ball and sent a delightful cross to the far post, where a defender had to head behind just before Ayling arrived.
But the Stoke marking was far less impressive from the resulting corner, as Cooper was allowed to run into the six yard box unchallenged, in a move that might well have originated on the training ground.
After that we never looked in danger, and Klich could have had a second when he sent a shot wide from close range, while claiming that a defender had got the final touch. He had started to tire after his early fine work, and he was to become the first player substituted, replaced by Dallas.
McClean forced Peacock-Farrell to make a fine save from a free kick, though our keeper was less impressive a few minutes later as he tried to punch clear, leaving himself stranded as Martins looped a header over the bar. But perhaps you could have said that Peacock-Farrell had been fouled by the original challenged.
Late on Stoke sent Peter Crouch on to ‘unsettle the defence’ and he did manage to force BPF to make another fine save, but apart from that we dealt pretty well with the lanky veteran.
We finally got to see a couple more new signings, with Baker and Harrison coming on for the last few minutes, and both were involved in an injury time breakaway that followed a goalmouth scramble at the other end. But disappointingly the move ran out of steam from a promising position and we ended up passing it back to the halfway line.
But in the end that didn’t matter, as the final whistle soon followed to huge cheers from the majority of the crowd of 34,126. Is the start of a great new era? I’ve been told by a Stoke fan that their defending was awful and this was simply a continuation of the way they’ve been heading for the last 18 months.
But you can only beat what’s in front of you, and this was all we could have asked for, and much more. There’s no doubt we’re in for a very interesting season and this is an excellent start.
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