Leeds U 3 (Aaronson 33, Rodrigo 37, Harrison 67)
Chelsea 0 21st August 2022, Premier League.
Wow! How about that folks? This was an almost complete performance from a side that is growing and growing. Four points from our opening two games was good, but there was serious doubt as to the quality of the opposition in those games although both Wolves and Saints still had worrying spells of domination and could, on another day have denied us those spoils. This was a big test against a side that is arguably one of the best in class, and certainly, one of the most expensive, and Leeds passed it with flying colours.
I fully expected we’d lose this game, assuming Chelsea would exploit the defensive issues we undoubtedly suffered in those first two games and knowing they had the firepower to do it. The best I hoped for was a good, error-free performance that would show we could give these expensively assembled ‘elite’ sides a run for their money.
Leeds did more than that, this performance is up there with the best we’ve seen from the Mighty Whites since we returned to the top flight. It was almost complete. For fifteen minutes at the start, we saw what Chelsea can do and Raheem Sterling, in particular, looked a real threat. He had the ball in the net once but that was ruled offside and he waltzed across our area once and, but for a couple of feet, he’d have opened the scoring. Mason Mount, someone we are well-used to seeing rain on our parade, also had one scuffed effort that Meslier did well to turn around the post. But once we had weathered that early storm we grew into the game and we saw for a prolonged spell the teamwork and effort that has been evident in glimpses in both of those first two games. Meslier had only one second-half effort from Reece James that really caused him any great effort but he dealt with it to cap a solid display between the posts once again.
OK, it was a goalkeeping howler of monumental proportions at the other end that gave us the initiative and sent Elland Road to a different level, but we then grasped that initiative and made it count. Brenden Aaronson deserved a bit of luck after the performances he’d already shown us this season but his harrying of Mendy paid off big style as the usually reliable Chelsea stopper was caught in possession and robbed almost on his goal line.
Step up Rodrigo. He has been a revelation this season, perhaps his form since the first days of pre-season is the reason Leeds have been dallying about bringing another striker into the fold. Throughout his career Rodrigo has never been a prolific scorer of goals, always being more of a provider than a scorer of goals, but this season he has suddenly found the Midas touch in and around the opposition area. We’ve seen some superb goals from him already with his feet but today he showed he can be equally dangerous in the air. The way he rose to glance home the 37th-minute Jack Harrison free-kick, one can only wonder why he has scored so few goals in the past. With Patrick Bamford hopefully returning to full fitness soon and Joffy Gelhardt pushing to get his share of opportunities, is there a need for another front-line striker? I was convinced before the season began but I’m not so sure now. Oh, and that second goal was yet another example of how our set piece work is now paying off! For the first time in years, we now look dangerous whenever we win corners or free kicks around the area.
Chelsea were clearly shocked by that double blast and for the remainder of the game they never really threatened despite bossing the possession – something that I had to double check as it really didn’t feel like they had that much of the ball; they certainly didn’t do much with it!
The third goal, coming in the 67th minute, finished the game off as a contest and perhaps showed that the Londoners are the team with the defensive issues. It also showcased again how alert Jack Harrison has been this season as he launched himself to latch onto the miscued Rodrigo effort. A ridiculous second yellow card for Koulibaly late in the game capped a miserable day for Chelsea although, incredibly, their manager Thomas Tuchel, the man with no scruples, had the gall to suggest they were the better team! Noone inside Elland Road will accept that analysis!
So, for me, this game was an eye-opener. Those glimpses of how we were starting to come together as an all-round team that we saw in the first two games, became a concerted performance in which the whole team played their part for ninety minutes and made us look like a side that is far greater than the sum of the parts we employ, in much the same sort of a way that Marcelo Bielsa eventually made us perform. This Jesse Marsch team is very different, but the effort – as witnessed by the phenomenal running stats we are posting every game, and the way we are gelling together so quickly after only coming together this summer, augers well for the rest of the season. I am now convinced there is the basis of a very good Premier League side in this squad and with some better luck with injuries the bench will only get stronger too.
Defensively we looked much more secure today too, and that against a side you would expect to give us a stern test. As I say, this was a pretty comprehensive performance in every respect.
Possession 40% 60%
Shots 12 14
On Target 6 3
Corners 4 6
Fouls 16 15