Victory over Middlesbrough at the weekend makes it eight games unbeaten for Leeds United in the Championship and five successive wins. Three defeats in late summer and early autumn had aroused familiar fears about the consequences of epically profligate finishing and an unsettling vulnerability from set-pieces. Exasperation intensified over Marcelo Bielsa’s miserly use of the on-loan Arsenal striker, Eddie Nketiah, and the support’s constant frustration with the sparseness of signings glowed with molten irritation when leads and points were blown. Yet here they are after their biggest victory of the season with a five-point lead over Fulham in third place, hugging the wall in the promotion race, progressing on the field without the typical melodrama.
Although the captain, Liam Cooper, has missed four games, his deputy Luke Ayling nine and the creative pulse of the team, Pablo Hernández, six, Leeds have evolved in the second year of Bielsa’s management, demonstrating greater tactical flexibility and fluidity of movement. But one thing, above all, stands out: a consistency of concentration that was absent at crucial junctures last season. While they may still squander chances, they are making far fewer errors at the back.
This time last year they had let in 17 goals in 19 matches compared with 10 so far in 2019-20. Throughout the continent’s main leagues Paris Saint-Germain have conceded eight in 14 matches, Athletic Bilbao and Leicester City nine in the same number and the Scrooge & Marley of the European game, Atlético Madrid, 10 in 15. Even so it is Leeds who have let in the fewest goals per game of them all, a wholly unexpected triumph given the sale of Pontus Jansson, his replacement with an on-loan centre-back who had yet to play in a division higher than League One and the recurring injury jinx at left-back.