|Leeds United 2 v 0 Rotherham United|
Saturday, 18th August 2018 Kick-off 15:00
Match Preview: Leeds United v Rotherham - Whites lock horns with Millers in Bielsa's first derby
Saturday, 18th Aug 2018 07:11 by @LucasMonk_
Leeds United head into this afternoon’s Yorkshire derby with local rivals Rotherham aiming for a fourth win in succession after securing safe passage into the second round of the Carabao Cup in midweek.
There is simply no other way of putting it. Marcelo Bielsa is revitalising Leeds United.
Only months ago, the club was plagued by the most awful atrophy; succumbing supinely to defeat after defeat, haemorrhaging goal after goal, and wilting like an etiolated little flower in the harsh glare of expectation that beaconed from its disgruntled support.
It is now a markedly different story. The team are winning, and winning well, scoring goal after goal, hassling their beleaguered opponents, and wearing a potent perfume of confidence that one can sense even from the loftiest reaches of the East Stand Upper.
And though the figurehead of this revolution, for that is what it is, is often dubbed a radical with a penchant for the abstract, United’s success, despite owing to many factors, is predicated above all on one simple quality - and that is hard work.
Marcelo Bielsa is Leeds United and Leeds United is Marcelo Bielsa. His infamous diligence in poring over copious videos is reflected in his team’s conscientiousness as they hunt like ravenous Bariba people for possession. When they stride out onto the pitch, they embody his maniacal dedication to football.
It goes without saying that three wins from three have endeared the Argentine to the Leeds fans, but it is the style in which they have already vanquished the much-fancied Stoke City and Frank Lampard’s Derby County that has ultimately appealed to their better nature. Whether it is Barry Douglas running down the wing, or Kalvin Phillips launching himself into crunching tackles, it is this team’s wonderful melange of industry and flair that is already warming the hearts of their supporters.
Of course, the season is young, and every team in the division would be well served to bear this fact very strongly in mind, but the people of Leeds are beginning to fall in love with their football club again. These days, an oft-divided fanbase is united extolling the virtues of high pressing, crisp passing and hefty tackling on social media. It contrasts starkly to the heady pathos and social media schism of a few months ago.
But what about the naysayers? The people who say that, though romantic, the Bielsa project is quixotic? That his reigns are ephemeral, and the fallouts cataclysmic? Is it feasible?
None of us are blessed with the power of clairvoyance. In its absence, all we can do is get comfortable, sit on the edges of our seats, and hope that El Loco’s locomotive does not come to a painful and grinding halt.
Jack London, a famous American writer, is often quoted as having said: “I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.”
If anything encapsulates the mood amongst Leeds fans at present, it is probably that quote. We cannot be sure of success, and Andrea Radrizzani might have rolled one big dice, but affairs at Elland Road are already making compelling viewing for the first time in yonks, and the gaze of many interested parties - rivals, fanatical Chileans and Argies, the press, and United fans - will all be intently cast upon this afternoon’s Yorkshire derby.
Know thy enemy: Millers hopeful of progression under talented Paul Warne
Rotherham United, as even its most calcified supporters would readily admit, is hardly one of football’s most glamorous clubs.
It follows then that Paul Warne, the club’s manager, is equally unremarkable as a football figure, and if one assessed his career as a far from prolific striker in the lower leagues, they would scarcely be surprised.
But remarkable things have been happening at Rotherham - and for a good few years, too.
Under the prudent guidance of Tony Stewart, a local businessman the club have made an almost miraculous recovery from homelessness, financial perdition and points deductions to rise from League Two to the Championship.
And having been categorically relegated to League One just three seasons after securing back-to-back promotions under erstwhile Leeds boss Steve Evans, the Millers are back, and Warne is chiefly responsible.
Warne first took over the reigns at the New York Stadium, which recently hosted the funeral of well-known entertainer Barry Chuckle, after the shock resignation of Kenny Jackett, who left the club after merely five games in charge.
Although he was unable to avert relegation, Warne was rewarded for his efforts during a difficult campaign with a one-year rolling contract by Stewart, who also entrusted him with a competitive budget in a bid to bounce back at the first attempt.
Rotherham did just that.
After securing fourth place in League One, Warne masterminded an impressive 4-2 aggregate dismantling of Scunthorpe in the play-offs, before a brace from dependable captain Richard Wood proved enough to see off Shrewsbury Town at Wembley and secure a quite remarkable return to the second tier.
Admittedly, there can be no doubting that an appreciable budget played a part in Rotherham’s triumph, and this may be the reason for which the success went largely unchronicled in the wider football media, but Warne deserves much credit for his retention of key players in Jon Taylor and Joe Newell and his astute captures of striker Michael Smith and midfielder Richie Towell.
Now, the Millers are determined to show that they are no pushovers, and to right the wrongs of the calamity that was their last Championship campaign.
A 5-1 humbling away from home at the hands of Brentford appeared to support popular predictions that the South Yorkshire outfit would struggle to avoid relegation, but home victories over Ipswich Town and Wigan Athletic, the latter in the Carabao Cup, have imbued their fans with optimism for the rest of the season.
The team are functional, and do not care much for liquid football, but they are still professionals who know the value of hard work and determination and who will give their all to survive. Much will depend on the performances of Smith, their first-choice target man, and Wood, their vastly experienced captain.
If they excel in making the step up to the fiercely competitive Championship, then the Millers might just have a fighting chance.
Despite their respective Carabao Cup victories over Bolton and Wigan in midweek, both sides are likely to remain unchanged from their last league fixtures, in which Leeds impressively defeated Derby and Rotherham claimed a last-gasp win over Ipswich.
Leeds have no fresh injury concerns ahead of the match, but Rotherham have one definite absentee in midfielder Darren Potter (achilles).
Prediction: Leeds United 3-0 Rotherham
Despite Leeds’ imperious start to the season, Rotherham will take no lying down, and it will be most intriguing to see how Marcelo Bielsa's side will face up to their unabashedly direct style of play, the likes of which they have not yet faced. That said, one also has to feel that the hosts’ redoubtable attacking play will cause the visiting defence myriad problems - can any team defend for 90 minutes?
Paul Warne’s side would certainly do their prospects no harm by tightly marking Mateusz Klich, who has scored in both of Leeds’ league matches so far. Meanwhile, Kemar Roofe, who netted a stunning brace last weekend, will be eager to add to his goal tally against a Millers rearguard that shipped five in their last away match.
What will be most concerning for Warne and Rotherham, though, is that even if the likes of Klich and Roofe are negated, other United players, such as Samuel Saiz and Pablo Hernandez, are more than capable of stepping up and producing a match-winning piece of panache.
Photo: Action Images
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