5 Talking Points from Leeds United’s 3-1 victory over Bristol City in the season-opener
Leeds United’s pursuit of promotion to the Premier League might have ended in disappointment last season but those demons hardly played a part when Marcelo Bielsa’s side made a thumping start to the 2019-20 campaign of the Championship with a resounding 3-1 victory over Bristol City at Ashton Gate on Sunday.
Many would have expected the Yorkshire giants to be in a hangover of the agony of blowing away a golden chance to make it to the Premier League last season but the Whites answered their critics in the best possible manner over the course of the 90 minutes in their 2019-20 Championship season-opener at Ashton Gate.
Indeed, in a dominant display that reflected the team’s tough character and strong mentality, Leeds sent out a strong message to the other promotion-chasing teams that they are ready to battle it out for the Championship’s ultimate prize – promotion to the Premier League.
Bielsa’s side caught the game by the scruff of the neck right from the very start as the Whites controlled possession with authority, never really allowing the Robins to get into their rhythm. They even managed to carve out some impressive chances of their own.
Pablo Hernandez’s wonder goal midway through the first-half followed by goals from Patrick Bamford and Jack Harrison in the second half was enough to seal all three points for the West Yorkshire giants, as Andreas Weimann’s deflected near-post strike eleven minutes from time proved to be just a mere consolation.
On a matchday where all the newly-relegated teams from the Premier League – Fulham, Cardiff City and Huddersfield Town, suffered shock defeats, the fans at Elland Road have every reason to be happy with the fact that Leeds managed to overcome the jitters in their opening fixture.
Looking back at how things went for the Whites over the course of the ninety minutes at Ashton Gate, Marcelo Bielsa should have plenty of positives to take from his team’s victory and he is supposed to be the happiest of the lot given that all his hard work in stitching the team together during the pre-season seemed to have paid rich dividends.
With that in mind, let us analyse Leeds’ performance in detail and jot down a few talking points from their 3-1 victory over Bristol City.
1. Old is Gold – Pablo Hernandez is simply the best
Cometh the hour, cometh the man – it was none other than the 34-year-old Pablo Hernandez, who lit up the scenes at Ashton Gate with some eye-catching moments of individual brilliance to play a starring role in what was an excellent team performance.
The fans would probably have feared that this season would be the beginning of Hernandez’s decline given his advancing years, but the Spaniard once again reminded everybody of the old cliche, ‘age is nothing but just a number’.
Hernandez’s excellent close control and skilful turn to shift the ball on to his stronger foot, followed by an incredible curling strike into the top corner of David Bentley’s goal opened the scoring for the Whites in the first half, leaving many to wonder as to how the 34-year-old continues to produce such mesmerizing moments even at this age.
That, however, was just the beginning, as Hernandez continued to create problems for the Robins’ backline with his pace, guile, skills and subtle movement. He was once again in the thick of things in the second half, with the Spaniard setting up the second goal on a platter for Patrick Bamford.
Indeed, the season-opener was a reminder that Hernandez will need to play a key role once again this season if Leeds are to get over the promotion line.
2. Ben White’s impressive debut
Debates on how Leeds United would cope with the absence of Pontus Jansson at the heart of the defence have been raging in the media ever since the Swedish international switched to Brentford earlier in the summer.
Well, those talks are expected to cool down now given that debutant Ben White showed in the 3-1 victory that he is certainly capable of filling in Jansson’s shoes at the back despite his obvious lack of experience.
The critics might still argue that it is just the start of the season but the 21-year-old Brighton loanee did put up a strong performance in his first game for the Whites.
Deployed at the heart of the backline alongside the experienced Liam Cooper, White showed plenty of composure on the ball and in all honesty, his passing was comparable to a central midfielder.
The youngster registered a total of 65 passes at an accuracy rate of 84.5%, including 6 successful long balls, 3 aerial duels, 1 tackle, 1 interception and 3 clearances, figures which are a testament to his fine start at Elland Road.
3. A confidence booster for Patrick Bamford
If there was anybody in Leeds’ ranks who needed a goal to regain confidence, it had to be Patrick Bamford.
The former Middlesbrough man had netted only 9 goals in the Championship last season and never managed to nail down a regular starting role due to recurrent injuries, but with previous season’s top-scorer Kemar Roofe departing the club, Leeds desperately needed Bamford to deliver the goods this term.
And the elegant playmaking forward produced a fine performance up top in the 3-1 victory to begin his campaign on a positive note. His passing was slick, movement subtle, and he grabbed his scoring opportunity with both hands when Hernandez set it up for him with a fine piece of skill in the second half.
The fans will be hoping that this performance wasn’t a mere flash in the pan, and Bamford certainly needs to build on this start and make a habit of finding the net every week.
4. Bielsa’s persistence with his midfield trio
Bielsa, apparently, wasn’t too keen to experiment heavily with his team dynamics in the season-opener and the Argentine went into the game with his preferred 4-1-4-1 system.
While the likes of Bamford, Hernandez and Harrison stole the show with their goals, central midfielders Mateusz Klich, Adam Forshaw and Kalvin Phillips were also equal to the task and made a key contribution in the victory.
Despite a few moments of sloppiness, Phillips was an influential, robust and an authoritative presence in his deep role in the midfield as a shield for the rearguard.
The 23-year-old not only won possession back, but also retained the ball at his feet to set the tempo of the game and stamped his authority in the air. He also unleashed some wonderful long passes to turn defence into attack in the blink of an eye.
Klich and Forshaw, who operated in a more advanced role, also contributed equally to both the defence and the attack, also linking up very well with each other to carve out a few chances. In fact, it was Klich’s shot that led to Harrison’s goal in the second half.
5. A few question marks
While Leeds definitely have plenty of positives to take from a few individual performances and good team performance in their season-opener at Ashton Gate, Bielsa would probably have noted down that a few players at the back need to pull up their socks. And goalkeeper Kiko Casilla is certainly one of them.
It would be unfair to say that the Spaniard was outrightly poor on Sunday but he never really looked in complete control of the proceedings inside his penalty area, with his improper decision making threatening to put the team in trouble on a number of occasions.
Casilla made some good interventions but he sometimes came out of his zone and got nowhere close to the ball, signs which probably won’t go down too well with the manager. He was beaten at the near post for the goal he conceded, which isn’t a pleasant sight for any goalkeeper, although there was a slight deflection.
With Bailey Peacock-Farrell now out of the frame, Leeds will need the former Real Madrid star to raise his game and prove his worth between the sticks.
Casilla wasn’t the only one who showed some signs of early-season rustiness, as full-backs Stuart Dallas and Barry Douglas looked shaky on a number of occasions.
If their performance on Sunday was anything to go by, Bielsa would probably want the likes of Luke Ayling Ayling and Ezgjan Alioski to be available as soon as possible.
Bristol City signing this 27-year-old Aston Villa star would help them launch a successful promotion push
Bristol City Opinion: Signing Scott Hogan could be a decent piece of business for the Robins
According to Birmingham Live, Bristol City have been credited with an interest in Aston Villa striker Scott Hogan in the summer transfer window, with reports claiming that Robins manager Lee Johnson is looking to bolster his attacking options.
However, as the reports suggest, the Robins’ interest in the Salford-born forward is likely to resurface this summer, with the 27-year-old’s future at Villa Park still unclear, following the club’s promotion to the Premier League.
Hogan made just 6 substitute appearances for Aston Villa in the Championship in the first half of the previous campaign before moving out on loan to join Sheffield United in January.
The 27-year-old’s stint at Bramall Lane proved to be a fruitful one, as the Irishman contributed with 2 goals and an assist in 8 Championship outings to propel the Blades to the Premier League for the first time since 2006-07.
A youth product of Rochdale, Hogan featured for a multitude of non-league clubs, including the likes of Woodley Sports, Halifax Town, Ashton United and Hyde before returning to his boyhood club ahead of the 2013-14 season. Hogan netted 19 goals in 40 appearances in the 2013-14 campaign to propel Rochdale to a third-place finish third in League Two and his prolific form earned him a coveted move to the Championship with Brentford back in the summer of 2014.
It was at Griffin Park that Hogan rose to prominence and carved out a big reputation for himself in the Championship, scoring 14 goals in 25 appearances for the Bees in the first half of the 2016-17 season before being snapped up by Aston Villa in January 2017. A move to Villa Park, however, didn’t particularly work in his favour, and Hogan slipped down the pecking order at the club after finding the net on only 6 occasions in the 2017-18 campaign.
Hogan’s Villa career was probably over last season itself, and now that the Lions have secured promotion to the Premier League, it is highly unlikely that they would consider the 27-year-old as a viable option in the top-flight next season. Sheffield United were believed to be interested but the Blades too are looking at better striking options.
To put things into perspective, it won’t be a bad idea for Bristol City to offer Hogan an escape route this summer, although he is still under contract at Villa Park until 2021 and the Robins won’t be able to get their hands on him for free. The 27-year-old’s time at Aston Villa hasn’t been a fruitful one but his previous goalscoring exploits at Brentford should prompt Bristol to make a move for him.
Bristol City will be looking to go one step further in the Championship next season and secure a playoff spot after the Robins finished 8th last term and narrowly missed out on a top-six finish. While defensive reinforcements are likely to be a priority for manager Lee Johnson, following the departure of Lloyd Kelly to Bournemouth and loanees Jay Dasilva and Tomas Kalas to their parent club Chelsea, bringing in someone like Hogan would certainly bolster their attacking unit.
Famara Diedhiou hit 13 goals in the Championship last term, while Andreas Weimann was another key contributor with goals and assists up front. Matty Taylor and Jamie Paterson also chipped in with some valuable contributions but the Robins need a little bit more depth and quality in their attack to enhance their chances of securing a playoff spot next season.
It is true that Hogan won’t be much of an upgrade on Bristol’s existing options up front but the Robins might as well look at the 27-year-old as someone who could add a bit more experience and depth to their forward line. And, if he manages to rediscover the kind of prolific form that he showed at Brentford, the Robins could have a gem on their hands for a pretty reasonable price.
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All in all, the fans at Ashton Gate probably won’t be too excited to hear about the club’s links with Scott Hogan but signing the 27-year-old could prove to be a shrewd piece of business for the Robins.
Nottingham Forest would get closer to promotion by signing this 31-year-old for free even if Joe Lolley stays put
Nottingham Forest Opinion: The acquisition of Albert Adomah on a free transfer could be a massive coup for Forest
According to Bristol Post, Nottingham Forest and Bristol City are set to go head-to-head in a transfer tug of war over free-agent Albert Adomah this summer, with Millwall also believed to be interested in securing the services of the 31-year-old.
Adomah is currently a free-agent after being released by Aston Villa upon securing promotion to the Premier League. The Lions decided against keeping the 31-year-old Ghanaian as a part of their plans in the top-flight moving forward but Adomah is expected to have plenty of suitors this summer.
The Robins are open to the prospect of reuniting with their former player, while Adomah’s inclination to remain in the Midlands might give Forest the upper hand in this deal. (h/t Bristol Post)
The 31-year-old made a total of 42 appearances in all competitions this past season and scored 4 goals, as Aston Villa secured a return to the Premier League through the playoffs following a three-year exile from the top-flight.
Dean Smith showed a lot of faith in Adomah’s experience and abilities in the semi-finals and finals of the playoffs but the Ghanaian looks set to remain in the Championship next season after being shown the exit door at Villa Park.
Adomah played for Harrow Borough and Barnet before earning a move to the Championship with Bristol City back in 2010. The Ghanaian’s three-year stint at Ashton Gate proved to be a fruitful one and the jet-heeled winger racked up 17 goals and 29 assists in 136 appearances for the Robins in all competitions.
Adomah’s promise and potential attracted interest from Middlesbrough, who swooped for him in the summer of 2013. The prolific wide man made an instant impact at Teesside, accumulating as many as 12 goals and 6 assists in his very first season.
The Ghanaian finished with 26 goals and 19 assists for Boro in all competitions and fired the club to Premier League promotion before switching boats to join Aston Villa.
To put things into perspective, Adomah’s pace, trickery and eye for goal, coupled with his wealth of experience in the Championship should make him a lucrative proposition for Nottingham Forest, despite his advancing years.
The Ghanaian might be 31 but he is still good enough to be a potent threat in the second-tier, and an eye-watering tally of 61 goals and 62 assists in 372 career appearances in the Championship should be enough to prompt Martin O’Neill to make a move for him.
Forest spent heavily in the transfer market last summer to bring in some high-profile players from foreign leagues but a 9th-place finish in the Championship was all that the club could manage.
The paymasters at the City Ground would have hoped for the club to secure a playoff spot after spending a fortune but that wasn’t quite the case, and now Forest need to adopt a more sensible and measured approach in the summer window.
Keeping that in mind, Albert Adomah is someone who could possibly offer good value for money and snapping him up for free might as well prove to be a masterstroke from O’Neill.
Joe Lolley and Lewis Grabban were the key contributors with goals and assists up front this past season but Forest need to find replacements for the likes of departing loanees Gil Dias and Diogo Goncalves.
Another big-money recruit Hillel Soudani struggled with injuries and failed to make much of an impact, and with Lolley attracting plenty of interest from the Premier League, Forest might find themselves in big trouble should the winger depart City Ground this summer.
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Even if Lolley stays put, Forest should go all out in their pursuit of Albert Adomah, given that the Ghanaian’s know-how and experience could go a long way towards helping the club secure a long-awaited promotion next term.
Aston Villa’s pursuit of this 24-year-old star from rivals would turn their defence into an unbreachable force
Aston Villa Opinion: Why the Villans should make a move for Adam Webster?
According to a report from The Sun, newly-promoted Aston Villa are interested in signing Bristol City centre-half Adam Webster.
Adam Webster, 24, only joined Bristol City from Ipswich Town last summer as a replacement for Aden Flint and mightily impressed under the guidance of Lee Johnson. In fact, he won Bristol’s player of the year award after making 47 appearances for the Robins in all competitions and forming a solid defensive partnership with Tomas Kalas last season.
The tall centre-back’s performances certainly haven’t gone unnoticed, with a host of English clubs interested in his signature, including Aston Villa. But should the Villans make a move for Webster this summer?
Villans have been very busy in the summer transfer window after achieving promotion to the top-flight via play-offs.
They have signed Wesley Moraes for a record £22million from Club Brugge and acquired the services of Jota from Birmingham City, with Gary Gardener going the other direction, whilst complementing the permanent signings of Anwar El Ghazi and Kortney Hause from Lille and Wolves respectively.
Dean Smith is putting more emphasis on strengthening his backline following the departures of loanees Axel Tuanzebe and Tyrone Mings—the duo who had formed a rock-solid partnership at the back during the promotion success.
The Villa manager is keen to bring back Tuanzebe and Mings, but the former is expected to be involved in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s pre-season games at Manchester United while Bournemouth are reluctant to let go of Mings for cheap.
And regardless of Smith signing Hause permanently, there remain reservations over the fitness of the club’s senior centre-back, James Chester. With Tommy Elphick already been released, Villa are in need of more defensive reinforcements. Thus, signing Adam Webster from Bristol makes absolute sense.
Standing at 6ft 3in, Webster is a towering centre-half, known for his strength, power and aerial ability. The 24-year-old has showcased a level of maturity that most of the defenders in the Championship struggle to have in his age-group, both in terms of composure and decision-making.
Physically dominant and strong in the air, he also excels with his composure on the ball and tackling skills at the back.
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The ex-Portsmouth and Ipswich Town defender compensates his lack of pace and agility with game-reading skills. Due to his giant frame, Webster is also an asset to have at both ends of the pitch.
Webster has impressed in the Championship and looks more than ready for the step up. He is 24 and Aston Villa could have a gem on their hands if he goes on to fulfill his promise in the years to come.
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