An exceptional strikers’ performance from Patrick Bamford today ensured that Leeds United took a massive three points against title-contenders Leicester City to bring about the end of a mixed January.
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Leeds United came into this game looking to capitalise on their win against a struggling Newcastle, but they were facing a much more threatening prospect. Leicester City had found themselves once again pushing for the Premier League title with Brendan Rodgers’ men only four points away from the apex of the division.Leicester had won the reverse fixture 4-1 after a late Leeds collapse saw the Foxes score two goals in the last 15 minutes to hammer home the result.
Leeds United were forced into one change from their win against Newcastle, with Pascal Struijk stepping into the shoes of the injured Diego Llorente. This change exemplified the, largely unmentioned, defensive injury woes that Marcelo Bielsa has had to contend with this season. Mateusz Klich was to be sat on the bench for the second game in his Leeds career as Stuart Dallas kept his place in midfield.
Leicester were without two key players, with Jamie Vardy and Wilfred Ndidi being replaced by Ayoze Perez and Papy Mendy. The ever-exciting Harvey Barnes was starting, with the winger famously choosing West Brom over Leeds United as a loan destination just over two years ago.
The game got off to a very slow start, both teams testing the resolve of the other with a few cautioned forays into the danger areas but there was no real threat beyond an inaccurate James Maddison free-kick and an insightful, yet heavy, Stuart Dallas pass which went behind for a Leicester goal-kick.
By the time the game hit the ten-minute mark, both teams had become more exploratory. Leeds had the ball but Leicester had the better of the chances. Already though, Marcelo Bielsa’s men were buoyed by the lack of Jamie Vardy, the man who had put them to the sword only a few months earlier. Defensively, the away side seemed more confident and competent.
Until that is, Harvey Barnes picked up the ball. The explosive winger ran infield, exchanged a quickfire one-two with James Maddison and turned the ball in across the goalkeeper to ensure that Leeds were not able to build on their six clean sheets this season. It was reflective of the goal that the winger scored at Elland Road earlier in the season. An early finish which might just serve to take the wind from Leeds’ sails.
This time was different though. Last season’s Championship winners have adapted to the demands of the Premier League and are well-versed now on dragging themselves back into games. It was barely two minutes later that the match was drawn level.
Patrick Bamford had a torrid time of it against Newcastle but came to life in the first half.
He collected the ball a few yards outside of the opposition area. The striker took his time and delightfully tapped the ball through into the path of Stuart Dallas. The utility man didn’t hesitate at all and turned an excellent shot past Kasper Schmeichel to return the game to an even keel.
The game had opened up now and was suddenly a thrilling competition. First, a James Maddison shot was deflected into the path of Ayoze Perez, who turned home before being flagged offside. A Jack Harrison cross also drew a good save out of Schmeichel after a big deflection from Mark Albrighton had seen the ball loop through the air in the most unpredictable manner.
There were more injury woes for Leeds as Rodrigo was forced from the pitch with a groin injury, to be replaced by Mateusz Klich. Rodrigo will now miss the midweek fixture against Everton and Klich seemed aware that this would be his chance to get back into the starting squad.
Immediately, the Pole was involved. His crossfield ball found the run of Jack Harrison perfectly and the winger had no problem smashing the ball first-time towards goal. It needed to be saved by the Danish international between the sticks at the King Power stadium. This was the commencement of a prolonged period of pressure from Leeds United. From the resulting corner, Klich turned the ball into the net after another exceptional save to deny Patrick Bamford had fallen to the midfielder. Offside.
Then came the highpoint of the Kasper Schmeichel’s performance. Bamford, once again, was instrumental in the build-up and sent the vibrant Raphinha in on goal. The Brazilian smashed the ball towards the near-post but, once again, the former Leeds United ‘keeper was equal to it
Leicester did create chances of their own though, with Mark Albrighton threatening Illan Meslier with a run from deep, which culminated in a shot at the near post that needed saving. The veteran winger saw that his side needed a boost and almost set a goal up when his deflected cross found the sliding boot of Ayoze Perez. Again, Meslier was there.
Ahead of the break, Brendan Rodgers was forced into his own substitution. Timothy Castagne had picked up a knock and Ricardo Pereira continued on his return from injury as he stepped into the breach.
At half-time the score was 1-1. Leeds United had the best of the game though and that showed when Brendan Rodgers went for a tactical change at the break. Mark Albrighton stepped off the pitch and Caglar Soyuncu stepped on as Leicester reverted to the 3-4-1-2 formation that had tested Leeds so much in the reverse fixture.
The tactical change worked wonders for the first ten minutes as the Leeds personnel struggled to figure out who they should be picking up. James Justin had a good shot blocked inside the Leeds area by the domineering Liam Cooper and Leeds’ chances dried up completely.
Despite Leicester taking the initiative though, Leeds defended excellently, reducing their high-flying opponents to speculative efforts from outside the area. It wasn’t until the 70th minute that a dangerous chance was created by either side.
Leeds created it and Patrick Bamford converted it in spectacular style. Pascal Struijk picked up the ball in midfield and made a first-time pass to Raphinha. The creative maestro then tapped the ball in behind the Leicester defence. Bamford collected it and smashed a finish into the back of the net. A brilliant goal from back-to-front.
Leeds slightly lost control of the game at this point as Leicester won a flurry of chances. Wesley Fofana had a volley deflected over the bar, the following corner fell to Jonny Evans at the back post, his finish was wide from less than a yard out, though it’s worth noting that the Northern-Irishman had to stretch to reach the ball. Ayoze Perez then capped this spell of pressure with an impressively accurate volley that drew a good save from Illan Meslier.
Leeds returned with a vengeance though. Pascal Struijk, impressive again, came devastatingly close to scoring his first senior goal before Ricardo hooked the ball away from his foot. Leicester piled on the pressure once more and earned themselves a free-kick just outside the Leeds area as they hoped to draw level.
It was cleared by Struijk. Dallas took it away from the box. Klich picked it up and drew Ricardo towards him before threading a pass into the Leicester half towards Patrick Bamford. The striker took his time, slowed down the play, drew out Kaspar Schmeichel and unselfishly squared the ball for Jack Harrison to turn in from close range.
It was a complete performance from Leeds United as they moved level on points with Southampton. Marcelo Bielsa announced after the match that Rodrigo would not be available midweek and, with Raphinha also leaving the pitch with a knock to the thigh, it could be a very different side that turns out at Elland Road. This is a great result though and is up there with Leeds’ best of the season.