Leeds United make their long, long-awaited return to action by hosting Aston Villa at Elland Road on Sunday in a repeat of the first home game of Jesse Marsch’s tenure.
Leeds have a point to prove after taking one point from their last three games. Nevertheless, the current side are almost unrecognisable from the side which faced Villa less than seven months ago.
Of course, most of last season was utterly miserable and difficult to sit through. But few moments were as agonising as when Matty Cash danced past Junior Firpo with ease and made the score 2-0 to the Villans that night.
Leeds capitulate against Aston Villa
The goal had come after the best spell of the game from Leeds. They had had Villa on the ropes during the first 20 minutes of the second-half. However, when the time came to produce the final ball, Marsch’s men were found wanting.
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And there was absolutely no doubt that it was not going to be Leeds’ night when centre-back Calum Chambers produced a ridiculously sumptuous finish to find the top corner for Villa’s third in the 73rd minute.
Chambers had previously scored just six Premier League goals in his entire career. So of course, he chose that evening to throw his hat in the ring for the Puskas Award.
Any hopes of a new manager bounce were emphatically dashed.
By the end, fans – many of whom had left their seats – were chanting for Marcelo Bielsa and asking for the board to go. Elland Road was dealing with a level of anger which had not been seen for several years.
There were no rash decisions from the board. Just a few days earlier, Leeds had produced a spirited performance in a 1-0 defeat to Leicester in Marsch’s first game.
And by the end of the week, the Whites’ survival push got up and running with that dramatic 2-1 win over Norwich City. There were plenty of twists and turns to come, but that victory seemed a real turning point.
With that in mind, it is remarkable to watch the Villa game back. Clearly, much has changed since.
Whites unrecognisable from 3-0 loss
Firstly, Leeds set up in a 4-2-2-2 formation out of possession. It was Dan James and Rodrigo who led the line.
Rodrigo had a miserable time before being taken off at the break. But James did delight the supporters by barging Tyrone Mings over as he attempted to clear the ball on the edge of his own box.
The back four meanwhile, included Stuart Dallas at right-back, Junior Firpo on the left, and Luke Ayling and Pascal Struijk at centre-back. Robin Koch meanwhile, started in midfield.
Patrick Bamford would make his – brief – return from injury in the second-half. But the likes of Liam Cooper and Kalvin Phillips did not feature against the Villans.
And lessons had been learned from the latter stages of Bielsa’s tenure.
Leeds were not afraid to be much more direct in possession. And the switch to a more zonal-marking system was immediate.
Villa had been the more dangerous side in the first-half. But Philippe Coutinho’s tame effort for the opener was still a sucker punch. Illan Meslier would have likely saved the Brazilian’s attempt with ease. However, a deflection off the bottom of Pascal Struijk’s foot lifted the ball over the goalkeeper.
And what went on to happen in the second-half threatened to derail Marsch’s time in charge before it had really begun.
But Marsch and Leeds have fought back. The last 3-0 scoreline at Elland Road involved the Whites blowing Chelsea away in August.
Of course, there are going to be more defeats at some stage. And Villa may well keep the bragging rights after the weekend.
But after watching that previous meeting back, it is clear that Steven Gerrard’s men could be in for a nasty surprise if they expect to come up against the same Leeds side that seemed in free fall in March.