17:00, Saturday 20 June 2020.
The scores from the 15:00 Championship kick-offs begin to the filter through; second place West Bromwich Albion manage just a point at home to city-rivals Birmingham, third place Fulham slip up at home to Brentford, while Nottingham Forest and Preston who occupy fifth and sixth place respectively can muster just a point.
As if it wasn’t evident already, the results further underlined that perennial nearly-men Leeds United would finally be reinstated as a Premier League club. The Whites sat seven points clear of third place with a game in hand to come the following day at Cardiff. With no chance of another Marcelo Bielsa-induced burnout towards the end of the season following the three-month hiatus, Championship promotion was as much there’s as the Premier League crown is Liverpool’s.
14:00, Sunday 21 June 2020.
They’re doing it again.
Bielsa’s men produced a performance befitting of a club in the relegation zone at the Cardiff City Stadium. Many had predicted that the footballing recess would be perfect for a Leeds side who last year had fallen away in March having looked certainties for a top-flight return. Instead they returned leggy, lethargic, strewn with errors and quite frankly they looked bereft of ideas after half an hour’s play.
A far from stellar Cardiff side defended resolutely and produced the moments of quality required to win a football match.
Leeds on the other hand were evidently missing the nous and creativity of Pablo Hernández. Having picked up an injury shortly prior to the resumption of the league, the Spaniard – who has an impressive six goals and six assist to his name this campaign -missed the trip to the Welsh capital and was sorely missed.
While football isn’t quite the same without the raucous atmosphere of a packed stadium, there are some players who could benefit from the subdued atmosphere in the grounds. Since his big-money move from Middlesbrough, Patrick Bamford has clearly struggled to carry the weight of being the number nine at a club like Leeds on his shoulders.
13 goals in 37 league games this campaign is far from a measly return from the former Chelsea man, but in a team as creative as Leeds with a conveyor belt of chances coming his way, that figure looks rather lean. Sunday’s trip to Cardiff was Bamford’s chance to play without fear and finally show the Leeds faithful what he could do without the constant worry of being hounded by his own fans – it worked for Joelinton at Newcastle, surely it could work for Bamford?! It didn’t.
The closest Bamford got to goalmouth action was inadvertently blocking Jack Harrison’s shot off the line and denying his side an equaliser, in a thoroughly miserable afternoon for the frontman.
Both the Cardiff goals came via sloppy Leeds play, with Kalvin Phillips and Liam Cooper both misplacing simple ten-yard passes, allowing Cardiff to capitalise. Prior to the postponement of the league, Leeds weren’t accustomed to making individual errors; Bielsa’s men have the meanest defence in the league, conceding just 32 goals in 38 games.
While many might point to Leeds’ collapse of 2018/19 and say the break will do them good as they’ll be less likely to suffer burnout, the team’s return evidenced an unwanted trait which they hadn’t displayed before.
Bielsa’s intense style of management mean that there’s no room for errors. Every part of a player’s performance is scrutinised; they can’t afford to lose focus. While the Leeds side might be physically rested, Sunday’s performance showed a team who hadn’t been demanded of by the Argentine taskmaster for three months, and their focus was waning.
Prior to the footballing break, Leeds had won five games on the bounce without conceding a goal. Could it be that – contrary to popular opinion – the break has in fact derailed Leeds’ promotion push rather than strengthened it? Could we be about to see the most emphatic collapse of Leeds Are Falling Apart Again United FC?
It’s a distinct possibility.