Leeds United picked up an emphatic victory against fellow promoted side West Brom on Tuesday, with Marcelo Bielsa’s men picking up their second consecutive clean sheet in a game which saw them put five past the Baggies.
It was to be a battle of promoted sides when Leeds made the journey to the Hawthorns on Tuesday night. Both sides were looking to capitalise on their strong boxing day weekend results, Leeds’ marginal victory had left them just shy of the top half of the Premier League table while West Brom had achieved a last-gasp draw against Liverpool in Sam Allardyce’s second game in charge.
Both teams initially planned to maintain the lineups that had performed so admirably earlier in the week but an injury sustained to Kieran Gibbs in the warm-up meant that former Leeds United captain, Lee Peltier stepped in to fill the void in the Baggies’ backline.
This game, much like Leeds’ battle with Burnley, was going to be an interesting tactical battle, with one side trying desperately to create chances and the other trying to prevent them. Perhaps due to this contrast, it took a while for there to be any notable goalscoring opportunities, the only real foray that Leeds had into the West Brom area was a low Rodrigo cross that was just ahead of Raphinha.
There still hadn’t been a goalscoring opportunity when Leeds United went ahead. A bizarre own goal from Romaine Sawyers putting the Yorkshire side in the driving seat, and ensuring that Leeds’ run of early goals in games continued. The former Brentford man received a pass from Conor Gallagher just outside his own area and, under pressure by a multitude of Leeds players, turned and passed the ball back to his goalkeeper, only to realise that the ‘keeper in question was nowhere near his own goal. The ball trickled over the line and West Brom had fallen behind within ten minutes.
From this point on, Leeds had the better of play. First Kalvin Phillips unleashed a dangerous strike from 25 yards that had to be dealt with by Sam Johnstone, Lee Peltier then had to be at his best to prevent a perfect Jack Harrison cross from reaching the onrushing Raphinha. Harrison then tried to score himself, cutting in from the right and attempting to curl one into the far corner, only for his weaker side to fail him as his shot sailed over the bar.
Finally, another one broke Leeds’ way. A killer in-swinging cross from Rodrigo found the head of Bamford, his miscued header ended up on the left of the box, rolling away from the goal. Prime position for Ezgjan Alioski to produce a screamer. Running onto the ball, the North Macedonian struck it the first time and cannoned the ball in off the far post.
It seemed at this point that, unless West Brom changed something quickly, the game would be out of their reach. No changes were forthcoming though and within five minutes, Leeds had capitalised. Jack Harrison has had his critics since he first arrived at Elland Road in 2018, but he was on great form today and his goal summed it up. Running onto a nice Alioski through ball, the on-loan Manchester City winger played a neat one-two with Patrick Bamford, chopped inside his man and finished spectacularly into the top of the Baggies’ net.
The game as a contest was long over by the 40-minute mark, but it didn’t stop the excellent Rodrigo from adding a fourth, courtesy of a huge deflection from the leg of O’Shea. Raphinha tried to add a fifth before the break with a hard, low effort from distance, but Johnstone was equal to it and the score at half-time remained four-nil.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, ‘Big’ Sam Allardyce didn’t fancy chasing the game after the break, instead opting for damage limitation. He brought off Matt Phillips for Branislav Ivanovic and moved to five-at-the-back.
To be fair to the veteran manager, it seemed to work. Chances were few and far between, at either side of the pitch. Illan Meslier, who performed admirably on Sunday against Burnley, seemed to get bored and decided to gift the home side a chance himself, passing straight to Grady Diangana after being put under pressure by a pass from Stuart Dallas. The big Frenchman made an excellent save to make up for his error though, and the clean sheet was never questioned again.
Marcelo Bielsa’s sides are rarely content though and his players managed to fashion a few more opportunities to add some sheen to an exemplary performance. Raphinha had been toiling all game for his chance to get on the scoresheet, and so he did after some nice interplay between Stuart Dallas and Jamie Shackleton, who came on for the injured Mateusz Klich, set the Brazilian running at Ivanovic. The former Rennes man eased past the experienced defender and smashed a shot into the far corner of the net. Patrick Bamford could have added a sixth but for some admirable defending from O’Shea and Pascal Struijik, starting in defence for the second game in a row, was inches away from another searching Jack Harrison cross. A complete performance from Leeds United as they now look towards a massive test when they come up against Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur at the weekend.
Illan Meslier: 7
A quiet night for him. The young Frenchman made a few good interventions at set-pieces and certainly since he has started being braver in those situations, Leeds have had fewer issues. Almost gave one away, but his save more than made up for the mistake. A solid, if unspectacular performance.
Stuart Dallas: 7
Some moments of genius but some sloppy moments too. Genuinely one of my favourite players but seemed to lose bearings a few times in the second period with misplaced passes, not always making himself available for balls from the ‘keeper and almost present Callum Robinson a late opportunity with a poor first touch. His involvement in Raphinha’s goal was lovely though. Strong showing for the Cookstown Cafu.
Luke Ayling: 7
Was good again today in the centre of defence. Not as tested as he was against Burnley, but his runs from deep were particularly impressive and he did have to deal with some set-pieces, which he did admirably.
Pascal Struijik: 7
Another strong performance from the young Dutchman. Didn’t give away any cheap opportunities, marshalled his side of the pitch well and his passing was mightily impressive. As much as I don’t think he is quite ready to completely replace Liam Cooper as first-choice, he’s becoming more and more like the perfect defender.
Ezgjan Alioski: 8
Sometimes he’s great, sometimes he’s not. Today he was marvellous. His goal was exceptional, his passing and movement were all very good and he is a strong contender for the most improved player since Leeds’ loss at Old Trafford.
Kalvin Phillips: 8
Just class. Can’t say much more than that. He was great as a defender on Sunday and was great in his usual position today, Dictated play nicely, prevented any counter-attacks with ease. Just a marvellous player.
Struggled to get into the game in the first period, West Brom seemed to have recognized his danger and put two men on him at all times, somehow that didn’t stop the vibrant winger from getting involved. His influence on this Leeds side from the right-wing is similar to that of Pablo Hernandez during Leeds’ first season under Marcelo Bielsa. Controls the tempo of the game brilliantly and seems able to summon a chance out of thin air.
Mateusz Klich: 7
Much better today than in recent games. Clearly enjoys having a partner in midfield more than the alternative. Good linking of play and seemed to be popping up all over the pitch. Was forced off the pitch with an injury in the second period and, as much as Leeds would miss him, you get the idea that the creative Pole might benefit from a game on the sidelines.
There were signs in the first half at Burnley that the Spaniard was getting closer to the player we signed and he improved on that again today. He showed a real desire to pop up everywhere in the attacking third to push the team forward, did his defensive duties with diligence and, though deflected, took his chance when it came to him. A brilliant performance.
Jack Harrison: 8
My Man of the Match. Seems to be on a real upward curve at the minute. An outstanding performance from the young winger. He seems to have been working on his weaker foot and that shows, though there is still work to be done. His defensive effort is exceptional and his knowledge of when to back away from the action to cover for the rampaging Alioski shows a real aptitude within the Bielsa system. His goal was brilliantly taken and he probably deserved an assist or two as well.
Patrick Bamford: 8
Didn’t score but managed to notch up two assists and was an all-round nuisance. Another good performance from Leeds’ number nine. He continues to seem suited to the challenges of the Premier League.
Jamie Shackleton: 8
Just an exceptional player. He played his part in the Raphinha goal, was a consistent menace to the West Brom midfield and I lost track of the number of times he nicked the ball away from the opposition. If Klich does miss a game, it should be Shack to come in and I’d back him to do an impressive job.
Pablo Hernandez: 7
Some nice touches and good runs off the ball. A good cameo from the veteran and a brilliant option to have on the bench.
Helder Costa: N/a
Had a solid ten minutes on the pitch, tried to create chances but the game was over at that point. A nice chance for him to stretch his legs.