On Sunday the 5th of August 2018, Leeds fans waited in eager anticipation to see what team renowned manager Marcelo Bielsa would field in his first game in charge against Stoke City.
Leeds had brought in the likes of Patrick Bamford, Jack Harrison, Lewis Baker, Jamal Blackman and Barry Douglas. However, the Argentine would play just one of his summer signings as the Whites stunned recently relegated Stoke 3-1.
GK- Bailey Peacock-Farrell
Peacock-Farrell took the number 1 spot partway through the previous season due to poor form from Felix Wiedewald and Andy Lonergan. Bielsa kept the faith in the Northern Island international and he didn’t do much wrong in this game, with Stoke’s goal coming from a Benik Afobe penalty. Peacock-Farrell would eventually be dropped due to the arrival of Kiko Casilla in January, and now plays for Burnley.
RB- Luke Ayling
There wasn’t much of a surprise with Ayling’s inclusion in the team. He was one of the more solid members of the team in his previous 2 seasons at the club and has remained an ever present in the team, when fit, ever since Bielsa took over. Ayling has played in every game for Leeds in the Premier League and was recently mentioned by name by Gareth Southgate when discussing players who were close to an England callup.
CB- Gaetano Berardi
Berardi has always been a fan favourite at Elland Road due to his clear passion for the club and refusal to back out of any challenge. During Bielsa’s time at Leeds he has been used as a backup centre back, despite being a full back for most of his career. However, he did get the nod for this game ahead of Pontus Jansson. Berardi is still at Leeds, though he hasn’t played in the Premier League yet and has only recently recovered from a long-term injury.
CB- Liam Cooper
It’s no surprise to learn that Leeds United’s captain featured in Bielsa’s first game in charge. It was a great start to life under Bielsa for Cooper as the Scotland international scored the third goal of the game from a Barry Douglas corner. Many doubted whether Cooper would be able to step up to the Premier League, but he has remained mostly solid since captaining Leeds to promotion.
LB- Barry Douglas
Following this game, you would be forgiven for thinking Douglas would go on to have a successful career at Leeds, but things didn’t turn out that way. Despite giving away the penalty that led to Stoke’s goal, he rectified his mistake 5 minutes later by grabbing an assist for Cooper’s goal. Douglas was the leading assister in the Championship the year prior with Wolves, but a mixture of injuries and inconsistent form meant he fell down the pecking order at Leeds. Douglas is now on loan at Blackburn, with his Leeds United contract expiring this summer.
CDM- Kalvin Phillips
Ronaldo Viera was sold to Sampdoria in Bielsa’s first summer at Leeds, but many fans wouldn’t have minded if it was Phillips who was sold instead. However, Bielsa completely revamped his game seemingly overnight. Phillips transformed from an average box to box midfielder, into a top-class defensive midfielder and was immediately considered as one of if not the best player in the Championship. Phillips has now earned 6 England caps and has adjusted perfectly to Premier League life.
RM- Pablo Hernandez
Hernandez had won Leeds United player of the year the previous season, so his inclusion in this team surprised nobody. Pablo had been Leeds’ main source of creativity before Bielsa joined, and that didn’t change following the Argentine’s arrival. Hernandez scored the second goal of the game just before half time and would continue this form for the next two years, being one of Leeds’ most important players as they won promotion last year. Pablo hasn’t seen consistent game time since promotion and is likely to leave the club in the summer.
CM- Samu Saiz
Saiz was a player that excited the fans every time he set foot on the pitch. The Spaniard was fantastic on the ball and could seemingly create something from nothing, sharing the creative burden with Pablo Hernandez. Saiz grabbed an assist for the opening goal, but unfortunately his magic would soon run out. Saiz became unsettled rather quickly under Bielsa and left the club in January to join Getafe on loan, before moving to Girona in summer 2019, where he still plays to this day.
CM- Mateusz Klich
Many Leeds fans didn’t know much about Klich and who can blame them? He was frozen out of the team by Thomas Christiansen in the previous season and spent the second half of the season on loan at FC Utrecht. He was reinstated into the first team by Bielsa and the gamble played off immediately. Klich opened the scoring in the 15th minute and has played in almost every single league game since, making 120 league appearances for the club. The Polish international’s form has dipped slightly in the Premier League, but he has enough credit in the bank that he is allowed a minor drop-off.
LM- Gjanni Alioski
Much like Berardi, Alioski is a fan favourite at Leeds mostly due to his light-hearted personality both on and off the pitch. This was one of the few games he played in midfield for the club, as he was converted into a left back in Douglas’ many absences. The Macedonian international hasn’t adjusted as well to the Premier League as many would have hoped and looks set to make the controversial transfer to Galatasaray in the summer.
ST- Kemar Roofe
Leeds fans were looking forward to seeing new signing Patrick Bamford leading the line, but they were instead given a glimpse into a new and improved Kemar Roofe. Mostly deployed as a winger in the past, he was Leeds’ main striker in Bielsa’s first season due to an injury to Bamford and he stepped up to the plate. In the first half of the season especially, Roofe found the net with ease. He chose to join Anderlecht in Summer 2019 for £7 million, and has just won the SPL with Rangers.