Leeds Utd 6 (Rodrigo 36,48,84, Bamford 50,71, Koch 90)
Cagliari 2 (Lapadula 66, Luvumbo 68)
Well, I can’t say I wasn’t a little concerned with the seeming lack of progress we’d made until today in what had looked a pretty uninspiring pre-season. We’d not really shown any real attacking threat and while the defence had generally looked tight, we had been undone a couple of times with breakaway goals that suggested we were a bit of a soft touch on the counter. Having now witnessed a much better, far more cohesive and potent performance against Cagliari I’m pleased to say I’m a lot more confident that we can do better this season than we managed in the last campaign.
OK, we have to keep in mind that this was Italian Serie B opposition, opposition that is probably still smarting from their relegation last season and an opposition that defensively looked all at sea on occasions, but you can only play what’s in front of you.
Leeds took a while to find their mojo I thought today, clearly a superior team to Cagliari we still seemed unable to find the rhythm, pace and movement to unlock them. Odd chances did come our way, Roca for example will probably think he should have done better than side foot his shot straight at the Cagliari keeper, but we had to wait until the 36th minute before we witnessed some real quality. A thoughtful long diagonal pass from Roca, a lovely take and two touch pass by Kristensen in towards Rodrigo, a step over the ball and run round the corner for a little return from Bamford and then, after a couple of jinks to find room, a lovely top corner finish from Rodrigo! It was a lovely goal and, probably for the first time this pre-season it looked and felt like we were suddenly all working together and being intelligent with our movement and passing.
That was it though for the first half and even then we allowed Cagliari to break away down our right side and almost conceded showing that, tight as the defence has looked all pre-season, that tendency to get caught on the break was still there.
From almost the first moments of the second half it seemed everything suddenly clicked into place. More clever work by Rodrigo on the right, a clever chipped pass, Rodrigo continues his run to collect the return and he steered the ball home with the help of a deflection off the keeper. Two minutes later it was 3 – 0 and this time it was Leeds breaking at pace with Aaronson taking the ball fully 40 yards before bending a low pass right into the path of Patrick Bamford. Paddy did the rest as he placed a perfect left foot drive just inside the left post. It was a reminder of what we missed most last season – the sight of Bamford finishing chances like that. OK, a Premier League defender would probably cut out the pass from Aaronson but again, we can only beat what’s on the pitch at the time.
We then had fifteen minutes without a goal although Rodrigo almost scored with a glancing header from a Harrison corner just reaffirming again that, on his day, and in a position that suits him, Rodrigo is a top player. But then suddenly Cagliari had a purple patch in which they just asked a few too many questions of us for my liking! Crystal Palace had scored a break-away goal against us in Perth the other day and the Italian side now did something very similar. It was a simple diagonal ball played from halfway, the dummy run to leave the ball and break our defensive line and a clever first time pass to the man now behind us. Lapadula finished superbly with a little dink. It would have been tempting to just shrug that off as a one off, similar as it was to the Palace goal, but within two minutes Cagliari had a second! This time Leeds were again more focussed on attack than defence such that when we lost the ball on halfway out on the Leeds right it was too easy for Luvumbo to speed away on his own and with Llorente dallying he merely put his laces though the ball to fire into the roof of the net. Both goals were poor goals to give away but still we didn’t learn, seconds later it should have been 3 – 3 as once again a simple ball over the top had a Cagliari runner behind our back line. A low ball across the face of goal should really have been buried by Luvumbo but thankfully he missed. It had been a terrible few minutes for the defence that perhaps put some question marks on the way we were set up defensively – it was a few minutes reminiscent of those thumpings we got at times last season when we seemed too easy to break against.
Thankfully, at the other end Leeds were now firing on all cylinders and it looked like we could score almost at will. Jack Harrison got on the end of a sharp pass into the six yard box from Pascal Struijk and he jinked past a defender to set up Bamford for number four and then we got another clue as to the lack of quality we were playing against as a Cagliari defender passed straight to Bamford 35 yards from goal. Bamford fed Aaronson and his quick clip across goal was finished by Rodrigo for his hat trick. In the last minutes Leeds then rounded the evening off with an Aaronson free kick that Robin Koch did well to get his head to and nod the ball home for a sixth.
On the evidence of today, things are coming together nicely in midfield and up front such that we suddenly do appear to look dangerous and have players who can create openings – Aaronson in particular who bagged three assists today but also the likes of Jack Harrison and Rodrigo. The concern now though is just how easily a second rate Italian side caught us on the break today just as Crystal Palace did and, before that Brisbane Roar did on one occasion. We have to be more circumspect when we pile forward and we have to always have one eye on where any break can come from; Premier League teams like the big six, Leicester and , dare I say it, Wolves, are all adept at breaking quickly and getting behind defences, we need to sort that weakness out.
Overall though this was a pretty good way to conclude pre-season, showing we can score goals, we are building a great understanding amongst ourselves and, perhaps more importantly, it looked like the players enjoyed playing together and were actually having fun out there. Seeing Paddy B getting his finishing honed again is also a big positive and knowing we still have Dan James (who looked sharp in Oz), Luis Sinisterra, and Joffy to come in the coming weeks then we look in good shape.
No one really knows of course until we have seen a Premier League game with this new look Leeds in action but, on the evidence of today we shouldn’t be too fearful!