Leeds’ Biggest Win Under Marcelo Bielsa Might Just Be Their Most Important

Helder Costa
Leeds thumped Stoke 5-0 in the Championship on Thursday evening | George Wood/Getty Images

‘It’s a big win. It’s up to West Brom and Leeds to come up with an answer,’ were the words uttered by Brentford manager Thomas Frank after seeing his side close the gap to Leeds to just three points with victory over Charlton.

Prior to Thursday’s visit of Stoke, Marcelo Bielsa’s side were preparing for the distinct disadvantage of seeing the Bees and West Brom both play before them in four of the remaining five Championship fixtures. The only exception being the final day.

Given Leeds’ recent history, that’s potentially a very unwelcome setback.

Marcelo BielsaMarcelo Bielsa
Marcelo Bielsa recorded his biggest win since taking charge of Leeds | George Wood/Getty Images

But when the Potters came to town, the ‘answer’ that Frank had pressurised his promotion rivals into giving was served up in resounding fashion.

A 5-0 hammering of the visitors marked Bielsa’s biggest numerical win in charge of the club to date, and their most important too.

Leeds coming unstuck against the sides parking the proverbial bus has been an issue for the past few seasons. Their inability to maintain balance in their play while also force the issue has hamstrung the club, but they showed their mettle on Thursday night in the most convincing way possible.

It appeared as though old habits were going to die hard in the first half, as Leeds struggled to break down a side drilled in their shape and content to sit back and absorb waves of pressure; Michael O’Neill being a manager well versed in the arts of defending.

Patrick BamfordPatrick Bamford
Patrick Bamford came closest to opening the scoring on Thursday | George Wood/Getty Images

A valiant clearance off the line from James McClean was swiftly followed by another in the closest Leeds had got to opening the scoring, by which point it looked like being one of those days. But the breakthrough would come at the most crucial moment – on the stroke of half time – with Helder Costa being clumsily felled by Tommy Smith in the box. Cool as you like, Mateusz Klich slotted the penalty away.

Accurately depicting just how important the timing of that goal was to Leeds is no easy task. Oftentimes they struggle to get going early in matches and the lifeline Smith offered them was one they had to cling on to with both hands.

From there, the Leeds that have been so enjoyable to watch under Bielsa came to the fore. Their swashbuckling, attacking and win-at-all-costs style of play makes for great entertainment when they’re not camped in the opponents’ third of the pitch, and the goals they scored in the second half reflected that.

When not faced with a low block, Bielsa’s side have the ability to rip teams to shreds. No space is occupied without a reason, and no ball is pressed without a plan. When it’s in full flow it works so fluidly.

Noteworthy, also, is the quality of the goals they scored against the Potters, particularly their fourth.

By this point Stoke were lined up to perform a medium press, not chasing the ball down off the defenders but hounding for possession whenever Leeds were in the middle third of the pitch. The patient, meticulous Bielsaball that the Argentine has instilled can come to the fore in such situations. A 30-pass move culminated in Luke Ayling feeding Costa, whose ball across the edge of the box was dummied by Patrick Bamford and left for Pablo Hernandez to tidily bend into the bottom corner.

A fine goal to cap off an excellent evening.

At this stage the points are all that matter. Winning and securing a top two finish is the sole aim this season, yet the resounding nature of the victory and the resulting confidence it will bring arguably make this the most important victory of Bielsa’s reign.

With a Swansea side up next in the Championship on Sunday – a team who try and play a bit – we might see Leeds’ true colours shine once more.

Their failings towards the latter end of the previous season were borne out of frustrations in the final third, which filtered through to the rest of the team. Seeing off a defensively intent Stoke City the way they did might just be the springboard to avoid any further heartbreak.

This is Leeds we’re talking about, yes, but that mental hurdle may finally have been overcome after Thursday’s thumping.

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