Leeds Are Back – But After a False Start, They Must Hit the Ground Running Against Fulham

Leeds impressed on opening day but have a long way to go | PAUL ELLIS/Getty Images

It’s one extreme to the other for Leeds as they readjust to life at English football’s top table.

Last week, they travelled to face the best in the land, and left it all on the line only to come up short against Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool.

On Saturday, they will face a team many consider to be the worst in the 2020/21 Premier League. Fulham, who were drab and uninspiring in their opening day capitulation against Arsenal, will offer a very different test.

The manner of Leeds’ swashbuckling opening day display has many believing they will run over Scott Parker’s side with maximum style and minimal fuss. They announced their return to the top flight with a savvy arrogance that stunned that left last season’s champions with a broken nose; Fulham, surely, will pose no issue.

They are expected to do the business, and that’s why we will learn far more about their mettle this weekend than from their trip to Anfield.

After a free hit on Merseyside, Leeds now have to get their points tally off the floor. So much has been made of their unique tactical identity, but it must translate into results if they are to stay where they feel they belong, and if they can deliver the type of performance they conjured up at Anfield then they will have a good chance of doing that on Saturday.

The way their midfield organised itself was jarringly unorthodox, and it times it seemed Liverpool would tear them to shreds. The cavernous open spaces between their midfield three of Pablo Hernandez, Kalvin Phillips and Mateusz Klich opened them to the slaughter, but their ceaseless running closed the gaps and negated the risks. They often succeeded in luring the Reds into traps, and though they were broken down on multiple occasions, their strategy bamboozled one of the best tacticians in the game.

Marcelo Bielsa’s unswerving belief in how football should be played means that system won’t be changed, but adjusted to suit the needs of the game. With no potent counter-attacking risk, we will likely see an even more expansive Leeds than we did a week ago, as they attempt to overpower Fulham and put Premier League points on the board for the first time in a decade-and-a-half.

The wildly contrasting perception of the two teams means Leeds are expected to get a result, but it wasn’t a year ago that they were beaten all ends up by Fulham at Craven Cottage. Bielsa had his palms stung that day, admitting his side lost the physical battle, and with 15 of the 22 players who started that game also starting last weekend, we may be in for a similar battle at Elland Road.

For Leeds, the pressure is now on. The novelty of being back in the Premier League may not have fully worn off, but if they are to build on the reputation they are cultivating for themselves, the substance must follow the style.

If they are to live up to expectations and become this season’s Wolves or Sheffield United, then the winning has to start now.