Leeds United 4-0 West Brom Six Things: statement from the Whites

Pablo Hernandez fires in the (very) early opener – bbc.co.uk

A stunning performance from Leeds United saw them trounce Championship promotion rivals West Bromwich Albion 4-0 at Elland Road on Friday night. Here’s our Six Things from the game.

The 16-second statement

After bad patch of form, Leeds United needed a response early here and they got it emphatically. Jack Harrison did some excellent work down the left, squaring for Pablo Hernandez to strike superbly inside the left-hand post from distance inside the first 30 seconds. Even before the goal, one could feel an atmosphere of defiance around Elland Road and Hernandez’s goal made the place positively electric, which contributed to a high-intensity performance. Hernandez drew instant confidence from his goal and threaded numerous delicate through balls, as well as one wonderful, diagonal, cross-field pass for Jack Harrison late in the first half, providing a reminder that the sparkling Spaniard is so crucial to Leeds’ creative play.

Disorganized West Brom

Considering that this was the early stages of arguably their trickiest fixture of the season, West Brom were surprisingly disorganized. Part of the problem with Darren Moore’s 4-3-3 system, with strikers by trade in Dwight Gayle and Hal Robson-Kanu covering wide forward roles, is that there can be a lack of protection for the full-backs and that was in evidence here. Neither Gayle nor Robson-Kanu were supportive in the defensive phase and thus midfielders like Rekeem Harper and Jake Livermore, as well as full-backs Mason Holgate and Tosin Adarabioyo, were reluctant to close down; by extension, that meant they could not truly impose themselves on the contest.

Bamford bags a brace

There had been question marks about Leeds’ pressing when Patrick Bamford starts rather than Kemar Roofe, but the intensity of their and his performance here was outstanding; Bamford was at times closing down the goalkeeper. Tyler Roberts, a striker by trade, frequently broke forward from midfield to link up with Bamford and, after some tight close control from the former Albion man on 28 minutes, he played an intricate through ball from the edge of the box for Bamford, who eluded Craig Dawson’s attentions before tucking the ball past Johnstone. In the second half, after another firm challenge from the superbly committed Kalvin Phillips and another driving run from Roberts past Livermore, Bamford evaded Holgate’s challenge to tuck inside the near-post, via a deflection from the hapless Dawson. Roofe has been a big part of Leeds’ success to date but on this evidence, they can find that winning formula while he is sidelined.

Bielsa’s beliefs epitomized

Ezgjan Alioski is arguably better at left-back than he is on the left wing. In that position, there is perhaps more scope for him to make driving forward runs from deep all evening and the marauding Macedonian interchanged duties superbly with left-sided partner Jack Harrison who, under Marcelo Bielsa’s influence, appears to have acquired an aptitude for the dirty work. Alioski rounded off the scoring in the final minute of injury-time, with a goal that typifies Bielsa’s relentlessly attacking philosophy. With the game won, Alioski still had the hunger to break into the box so, as injury-time substitute Jamie Shackleton injected raw energy and broke into the box to square it, the 27-year-old could tap home at the back-post – meaning Leeds scored in both the first and last 16 seconds of the match.

Should Moore be questioned?

While it would be unfair to make conclusive judgements on West Brom based on one game, considering they beat Leeds by a three-goal margin in the reverse fixture, this feels like a game that somewhat validates suspicions that they are not quite ready for the Premier League. The sizeable chasm between their seven-man defensive unit and three-man offensive unit made it very difficult for them to produce a coherent performance of any nature. Darren Moore must therefore take a large chunk of the responsibility for this defeat and, while he deserves credit for boosting the spirit around the club and delivering a competitive campaign, he has tactically been found wanting here.

Morale-booster for the Whites

Equally, this feels like a hugely significant result for Leeds. The West Yorkshire club go top of the table before Norwich travel to Millwall on Saturday and Sheffield United compete in a Steel City Derby at Hillsborough, games for which there may be btts tips for both sides to net. A sixth defeat in 11 for Leeds would have added to the external narrative of them ‘falling apart’, which has been carved by the 2016-17 and 2017-18 campaigns when promising promotion challenges faded away. Rather than succumb to that narrative, the club have rallied with immense spirit to produce one of their best performances of the season and that will give them a lot of confidence heading into next week’s trip to Bristol City. Get something close to this level of performance in forthcoming clashes and they have an excellent chance of automatic promotion.