Leeds United v Preston North End: Putting in the extra hours paying off for Leeds United and Ezgjan Alioski

EZGJAN ALIOSKI'S first taste of the League Cup with Leeds United last season involved three cameos from the bench and a successful penalty in the shoot-out win over Burnley.

ON TARGET: Leeds Uniteds Ezgjan Alioski scores his sides second goal of the game against Norwich at Carrow Road. Picture: PA.

The Macedonian was also sent on as a substitute for the final quarter of the first-round win over Bolton Wanderers earlier this month, suggesting he can expect more of the same tonight when another Lancashire side in Preston North End head to Elland Road.

What Alioski insists has changed over the past 12 months, however, is how better equipped Leeds are under Marcelo Bielsa to enjoy a good run in the Carabao Cup this time around.

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“This is a cup and it can all happen because I think both teams will make some changes,” the 26-year-old midfielder told The Yorkshire Post. “But what is different is that we have a better bench.

“In the cup of course we want to play a big team to see how we set to play against a big team with Bielsa.”

Talk of who Leeds may face in the next round is, of course, best left until after a safe passage has been negotiated past fellow Championship side Preston.

But there can be little doubt that things feel on the up at Elland Road right now courtesy of a start to the season that few saw coming, even after Bielsa had been appointed in June.

Saturday’s resounding 3-0 win at Norwich City took Leeds back to the top of the table, having been deposed the previous evening by Middlesbrough.

Marcelo Bielsa barks orders at his players from the touchline at Carrow Road on Saturday. Picture: Simon Hulme.

The two old Yorkshire foes meet on Friday night in a mouth-watering clash in front of the live Sky cameras, but for now the focus is solely on Preston.

Changes will be made by both managers. Only Luke Ayling, Kalvin Phillips and Samuel Saiz started in the first-round win over Bolton after also being in the XI that had thrashed Derby County the previous weekend.

With that top-of-the-table clash against Boro looming large, Bielsa may opt to rest his entire first-choice side, but what will not change is the style of play that has proved such a hit under the Argentinian.

Increased fitness levels have been a big feature of United’s style, something that can be put down to Bielsa extending the working day in pre-season to 12 hours or more.

Ezgjan Alioski shares a few words with Leeds United chairman and owner, Andrea Radrizzani. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Even now, with the games coming thick and fast, there is little let-up for his squad.

“We were training on Sunday,” said Alioski, one of United’s goalscorers in the win at Norwich. “It is not only on a Sunday, either.

“Also after Swansea we came home at four in the morning and at 12.30 we were again in the academy. It is never (a day) off. Always work, work, work.

“We have really special(ised) training as well. For the wingers we have really special training to go deep, to come short, to go one against one and when is the moment (to attack).

“For two hours we train only tactics. You might think it is boring, but I think in the game it is in your head. You are thinking, ‘Now is the time to go’. I see that in all the players’ movement.

“We have one week and we do each day two hours tactics, tactics, tactics. It is really interesting how he does this.”

Asked if this represented something of a revolution, Alioski replied: “I don’t know how to say this, but, maybe, yes this is. It is something new for all of us at Leeds.

“It is a new revolution for this club and I hope we will go up. Of course when the results are like this at the beginning it is easy to speak and to say now he (Bielsa) is the man.

“It is better to speak after 20 or 22 games to say he is the man. But he can be the man. He has changed much. We have the same players, not too many changes, and we are playing better football.”

Promotion, of course, is not what tonight is all about.

Instead the incentive for beating Preston is a place in the third round and a possible meeting with, say, Manchester City or Tottenham Hotspur that would bring Pep Guardiola or Mauricio Pochettino up against their biggest coaching mentor.

Alioski, an unused substitute as Leeds were knocked out in the fourth round last season by Leicester City, certainly hopes such a prospect can become reality.

“To play maybe against Manchester City, to see what is his tactic to play against a big team,” said the Macedonian international. “I am sure that if we win this game (against Preston) and we have a big team in the cup, I think with Bielsa we will try and press and we can press a big team with Bielsa. He is not afraid about this.

“We have good players, a good side and it is also nice for the players that can play in the cup.”

Last six games: Leeds United WWWWDW Preston North End WLWDLL.

Referee: T Harrington (Cleveland).

Last time: Leeds United 0 Preston North End 0; August 12, 2017; Championship.