Hi everyone welcome back to the Follow Me and Leeds United blog for this season and I look forward to catching up with you in due course. Whilst it’s not the same with us not being allowed at games with our fans, I thought it important to still share my blogs and keep my spirits up.
Liverpool v Leeds United 12th September 2020 at Anfield
With the season finishing only seven weeks ago for Leeds United, the season started in earnest today with our first game back in the Premier League after a 16-year absence. Sadly, once again this was to be behind closed doors due to the Coronavirus Covid 19 Pandemic that still affects our lives. As a fan, not being there was gutting, and I can’t wait for us to get back to going to games with our fantastic fans as I’ve missed you!
It’s been a busy week for me on the media front again, first when I was asked to interview Leif Davis one of our youngsters at the Dakota Hotel in Leeds, then appear on BBC Look North on Friday. The latter was outside Billy’s statue and involved Phil Beeton of the Leeds United Supporters Club, young fan Josh, Adam Pope, Noel Whelan and I giving a pre-game preview. The next day I appeared on Radio 5 Live at 8.15am alongside a West Bromwich Albion (WBA) and Fulham fan. Fulham had already been beaten yesterday and WBA were due to play on Sunday. Interestingly, I was the only one aiming for the top and when challenged to give a position, my stance was the following. Aim for the top, then you have the Champions League places below and then other places after that. Aim for just above the relegation places and all you have is relegation…….
The team: Illan Meslier, Pascal Struijk, Robin Koch (making his debut from FC Freiburg), Luke Ayling, Stuart Dallas, Helder Costa, Pablo Hernandez, Jack Harrison, Kalvin Phillips, Mateusz Klich and Patrick Bamford. Subs: Tyler Roberts for Hernandez (62), Rodrigo Moreno Machado (making his debut from Valencia CF) for Patrick Bamford (62) and Jamie Shackleton for Mateusz Klich (81). Subs not used: Kiko Casilla, Ian Poveda and Oliver Casey.
Leeds lost the game 4-3 (Liverpool were awarded two penalties one in the 3rd minute and one in the 88th minute). Harrison (12), Bamford (30) and Klich (66) were the Leeds scorers. Attendance: zero, behind closed doors. Referee: M. Oliver.
With Cooper having pulled out with an injury received in the Internationals that took place this week, that was a blow to not be able to lead the team out at Anfield on our first game back. I feel having the Internationals timing for the two weeks prior to the start of the new season was very badly timed, although admittedly, it was due to the Pandemic. With the injury to Cooper, it meant that our new signing Koch made his debut alongside Struijk. With Koch himself only returning from International duty with Germany, there wasn’t much time to familiarise himself with the way we play the game.
The game set off at a cracking pace which was understandable, but Leeds were dealt an early blow when the referee blew for a penalty after the ball hit Koch on the hand. After VAR made a quick decision to confirm this, afterwards it was said that according to the new rules it shouldn’t have been awarded as the ball deflected off his foot. A very harsh decision to put Leeds on the backfoot.
The IFAB rules state: It is not an offence if the ball touches a player’s hand/arm
- directly from the player’s own head or body (including the foot)
I felt by Liverpool scoring the early goal, this would at least take the pressure off Leeds and they could go out and play football. As it was, we took the game to Liverpool. There was a lot of end-to-end football and it was a great advert for the game, and it showed what Bielsa has brought to Leeds United. Costa got the ball into the net only to see the goal ruled out for offside. That only spurred Leeds on more as they attacked once more towards the kop end with Phillips sending a great ball onto the wing for Harrison. He made it look so easy as he cut inside two men and unleashed a shot into the goal to equalise with a great goal and our first in the Premier League this season. Liverpool regained the lead from a corner when it looked like Koch had lost his man, but replays showed he had been blocked and the goal shouldn’t have stood. Liverpool were picked up later for the same foul. Once again though, Leeds came back and after a Bamford chance crept away from him when he tried to go around the keeper, I said to learn from that and he should have hit it first time. A short while later the same opportunity arose after a poor clearance and this time Bamford made no mistake for Leeds to equalise for the second time on the day. Meslier made a fantastic save after the ball rebounded off Struijk before once again, Liverpool regained the lead for us to go in 3-2 down at half time.
At the start of the second half we sat back as Liverpool put us under a lot of pressure before Leeds had a further goal disallowed for offside. After Klich pointed for Costa to place the ball where he wanted it, he sent a great shot into the net for Leeds to equalise for a third time. With the action being fast and furious, you hardly had time to draw breath as the end of the game drew near. When a Liverpool goal was chalked off for being offside, I hoped we could see the game out for a draw. Sadly, they were given a second penalty to win the game after a foul by Rodrigo in the box. Leeds deserved something out of the game as they had played really well in an entertaining game. Although we hadn’t got the deserved point, the team had shown the Premier League what they have been missing with some fantastic football on show. It had the desired effect to have everyone talking about us which grated on many opposition fans’ nerves though. Oh dear, what a shame!
It was a baptism of fire today but with Cooper out through injury, we had two centre backs who hadn’t played together apart from the last three days. In reality, Liverpool needed two penalties to win us on the day so be proud of the way we played and next time, they won’t be so lucky! LUFC – Marching on Together!
Leeds United v Hull City Carabao Cup on 16th September 2020 at Elland Road
Leeds made many changes to the team today and although I know it gives the fringe and young players a chance of a game, I felt there were more changes than normal. It’s a shame that we don’t try to progress in this cup competition especially when there is a chance to compete in Europe again. With this being the first game back at Elland Road that we weren’t allowed to attend, this also hit hard, and I hated having to watch it on tv which was soul destroying. With there being no sound behind the commentary too, it was horrible to watch. From a Leeds fan’s perspective, that also included the way we were playing.
Team: Kiko Casilla (captain), Charlie Cresswell, Barry Douglas, Leif Davis, Oliver Casey, Mateusz Bogusz, Tyler Roberts, Ian Poveda, Ezgjan Alioski (Gjanni), Rodrigo Moreno Machado and Jamie Shackleton. Subs: Pascal Struijk for Casey (45) and Robbie Gotts for Bogusz (78). Subs not used: Illan Meslier, Patrick Bamford, Jack Harrison, Kalvin Phillips and Alfie McCalmont. The score after 90 minutes was 1-1 with Alioski equalising in 90+3. Leeds lost the game 9-8 on penalties. Attendance: zero, behind closed doors. Referee: David Webb.
With ex-Leeds players Mallik Wilks and Lewie Coyle (captain for the game) in the Hull side, it was no surprise to see Wilks score within five minutes with a deflected shot. I’m sure he felt he’d a point to prove. Hull were doing all the early attacking, putting Leeds under pressure and after our first corner, they counterattacked with Wilks once again with a deflected shot, coming close to scoring a second. The nearest Leeds came to scoring was in the closing minutes of the half when Alioski’s shot went over the bar.
The second half saw Struijk come on to replace Casey, but it was at least 20 minutes before Hull had a couple of more chances to score with Casilla being called into action to save one. With Hull having most of the game they should have put it to bed with four minutes to go. Their player had only Casilla to beat but he rose to the challenge and stopped him. With that Leeds had a shot from Gotts saved which was our first shot on target during the game. With injury time ticking away I just knew Leeds were going to score to take the game to penalties and it was Alioski who smashed the ball home to equalise.
With Leeds taking penalties first with Rodrigo getting his first goal for Leeds with the first one. Alioski’s penalty bounced back off the post so missed, but Roberts, Poveda and Douglas scored, and it was 4-4 before sudden death due to Coyle missing his penalty. Struijk, Davis, Gotts and Casilla were successful with their penalties but when Shackleton missed, Hull scored the deciding penalty to take them through on the night. With a bad game from our point of view at least it livened up at the end.
With Mark Jackson set to take over as coach of the under 23s, hopefully the way of everyone playing the same way will take on a new lease of life. Back to league action on Saturday with our first home Premier League game, it will be a different game altogether. LUFC – Marching on Together!
Leeds United v Fulham 19th September 2020 at Elland Road
Having been contacted prior to the game by someone from Cable+ the equivalent to SKY TV in France, I signposted them to the Whistlestop and Millennium Square in Leeds. They were wanting to meet some of the fans and hear them out after what was hoped to be our first win this season. Hopefully, they met plenty!
The team: Meslier, Liam Cooper (back from injury and captaining Leeds for his first game in the Premier League), Dallas, Koch, Rodrigo (making his Premier League start due to Hernandez being injured in the pre-game warm up), Bamford, Costa, Harrison, Klich, Phillips and Ayling. Subs: Roberts for Rodrigo (45) and Alioski for Bamford (70). Leeds won the game 4-3 with goals from Costa (5 and 57), Klich (penalty 41) and Bamford (50). Attendance: zero, behind closed doors. Referee: K. Friend.
Leeds took an early lead when we scored from a corner. Phillips sent the ball into the middle, which was headed on to Costa all on his own at the back post where he smashed the ball into the net via the underside of the crossbar. After a chance from Fulham, Leeds came close again when the keeper made a save from Koch after another corner. Leeds were dealt a blow when another penalty was awarded against us after a challenge from Koch. To me he had already pulled out of the challenge and was unlucky to slightly connect with their player. Fulham scored from it to equalise with Meslier unlucky not to save it when he went the right way. That wasn’t the end of the drama in the first half though as Bamford was pushed in the back to prevent a scoring chance and Leeds were awarded a penalty. Klich duly put the penalty away and Leeds went into the break leading 2-1 after Meslier kept Fulham out with a save.
In the second half Leeds went further ahead after a great pass from Klich to Bamford, saw him put the ball into the net in front of the Kop. After another attack Bamford on the left wing towards the Kop, sent a great pass across the penalty area and Costa hit an unstoppable shot into the net. It was great to see Leeds scoring goals as the Fulham defence just seemed to stop and watch Costa again in space get the ball. At times we had not been strong enough in midfield for me, with Roberts being bundled off the ball giving Fulham some hope. Suddenly they were able to get back into the game when they got past Phillips and with their player already past Dallas, went on to score. They got a further goal from a cross into the middle as Meslier looked to be blinded by the sun and went back onto his line as their player rose above Cooper to head into the goal. The comfortable end to the game that was anticipated was suddenly under pressure especially when Fulham hit another shot that I think was covered by Meslier but hit the post and went wide. Bielsa then changed things by bringing Alioski on and he was unlucky not to score but was denied by the keeper who also kept out the rebound from Roberts. With Meslier saving a shot from Fulham, we were able to see the game out to get our first win and three points of the season.
Another entertaining game with plenty of goals, and despite many having worries about conceding seven goals already, we have to remember three of those were penalties. We will be fine as we continue to play together and will go from strength to strength. Once again, the plaudits are for the way we are playing and Bielsa will continue to play the way we do. Our best form of defence is attack Leeds which shows when we keep the ball away from the opposition. Minimising playing across the back which I know needs to be done at times and for instance, when all we needed to do was turn and take the attack back up the field, we see the ball hit a long way back to Meslier, we won’t go far wrong. Please get us back to games soon. LUFC – Marching on Together!
Sheffield United v Leeds United 27th September 2020 at Bramall Lane
25th September we heard the sad news that another player from my early days of following Leeds, Peter Hampton, had died whilst on holiday in Cyprus with his family after his recent retirement. I remember him as one of the Leeds United youngsters but then it was a shock to realise, he was only slightly older than I am now. My thoughts are with his family at this time.
Leeds have still been busy in the transfer market having signed another defender Diego Llorente from Real Sociedad, who is a Spanish international player and will play with number 14 on his back.
The team: Meslier, Koch, Phillips, Ayling, Dallas, Cooper (his 200th game), Costa, Roberts, Bamford, Klich and Harrison. Subs: Rodrigo for Roberts (45), Poveda for Costa (65) and Alioski for Rodrigo (90+1). Subs not used: Elia Caprile, Shackleton, Davis and Struijk. Leeds won the game 1-0 with a goal by Bamford (88). Attendance: zero, behind closed doors. Referee: Paul Tierney.
I had no preconceptions about how the game would go but once again I was adamant that Leeds should go out and play the best they can and still aim for the top, never giving up. Leeds nearly got off to a great start when Ayling’s great shot was saved by their keeper to prevent an early goal. Sheffield had a shot that went wide before a Bamford header at the other end went over the bar. I said that Bamford shouldn’t worry as he’ll do better next time. He did come closer with his next header so I said that it would be third time lucky for him. Meslier then made a fantastic save to prevent Sheffield going in front when the ball looked destined to be a goal. Dallas was the next to come close when their keeper made another save to prevent us taking the lead. The teams went into the break on even terms thanks to another save from Meslier. The whistle blew and for once I hadn’t even looked at the clock to see how long was left. Although it was quite tight between the two teams, the first half had passed quickly.
Rodrigo came on in place of Roberts for the second half and Leeds started off on the attack where Costa and Bamford both had shots saved. Meslier was called into action again and showing how competent he was with another save. He is coming on in leaps and bounds and I feel very comfortable with him in goal. When Dallas rounded the keeper after a great pass from Ayling, sadly there wasn’t enough power on the ball and their player cleared it off the line. Dallas produced a great pass that saw a header from Rodrigo go over the bar. I thought then that he would work well with Bamford who will learn how to direct his headers better. After some great work from Poveda, again their keeper made the save. Once Sheffield brought two subs on in McBurnie and Sharp with 16 minutes to go, Leeds began to have more room when attacking. As long as we kept them out, I knew we would keep fighting until the end so stood a chance of winning the game. A draw wouldn’t be a disgrace but obviously three points are better than one. Sheffield saw a chance go wide before Meslier dived at the feet of their player only to receive a bad challenge in his stomach despite their player trying to pull out of the challenge. With another attack after a great run from Harrison, his cross was met in the middle by Bamford to head the ball into the net to put Leeds into the lead with two minutes of normal time remaining. That had me dancing about the room shouting get in, to Bamford and third time lucky with the header! Alioski was brought on for Rodrigo as Leeds saw out five minutes of injury time to take the win and three points. Well done lads that is just the tonic we needed. I can’t wait to get back to the grounds in person to support you on the terraces and it can’t come soon enough for me and I’m sure the same feelings are with thousands more Leeds United fans. With two home games coming next against Man City and Wolves, I am looking forward to Leeds getting stronger with more game time. LUFC – Marching on Together!