Leeds’ thrilling start to life back in the Premier League under head coach Marcelo Bielsa is one of the highlights of the season so far.
Since an end-to-end 4-3 defeat at champions Liverpool on the opening day, Leeds have beaten Fulham and Sheffield United before taking a deserved point off Manchester City in last weekend’s pulsating 1-1 draw.
Here, the PA news agency looks at why Leeds have made such a big impression and whether they can maintain it.
Super-fit and ready for hard yards
There is no substitute for sheer hard work. Double training sessions – sometimes triple – at Thorp Arch are the norm under Bielsa, whose weekly ‘murder-ball’ drill helps prepare his players for their intense physical exertion on match day. Leeds have out-run and out-tackled their top-flight opponents and press with a ferocity which has unsettled players of a higher pedigree. It is not rocket science, but has certainly levelled the playing field.
Bielsa – a master of his craft
Optimum fitness levels provide Bielsa with the platform to apply his forensic analysis on how best to nullify his opponent. This is best served by Plan A and if that fails, more Plan A – with a few tweaks. Leeds were overrun by City for most of the first half at Elland Road last week, stifled by the visitors’ own high press. Bielsa solved the problem during the interval, deploying his wingers and midfielder Mateusz Klich deeper to help his side play out from the back. Bielsa is finding a way to stay one step ahead of his rivals.
Phillips and Klich double act
Two players who quickly adapted under City’s early onslaught, Kalvin Phillips and Klich, remain key to Leeds’ success. Phillips provides the muscle, Klich the indefatigable legs. Phillips bounced off Kevin De Bruyne in one early tackle but went on to win that physical battle, while Klich ran and ran. When two players with such attributes can pass as intelligently as both these two can, it makes for a formidable unit in central midfield and is the fulcrum of Leeds’ attacks.
Bamford at top of his game
Patrick Bamford has silenced his critics, who claimed a striker who needed too many chances to score in the Championship would struggle in front of goal in the Premier League. The 27-year-old responded by scoring in each of his first three top-flight matches this season. Bamford provides Bielsa with much more than goals though – he has also made one assist and earned a penalty – as his tireless, unselfish and intelligent harrying at the top of his side’s press sets the benchmark for his team-mates to follow.
Can Leeds maintain top-flight charge?
The general consensus among former players and pundits is that they can. When Leeds capitulated during the Championship run-in at the end of the 2018-19 campaign, plenty joined the chorus of doubters who pointed to similar implosions at Bielsa’s former clubs Atletico Madrid and Marseille. But Leeds never faltered after 46 matches last season and with eight fewer league games this time around, plus the addition of four major new summer signings, do not expect them to run out of steam again.