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Big-match verdict: Leeds United off to a flyer as Bielsa weaves his magic

Winning feeling: Pablo Hernadez wheels away in celebration after scoring the second goal (Picture: Tony Johnson)
Winning feeling: Pablo Hernadez wheels away in celebration after scoring the second goal (Picture: Tony Johnson)
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AS a host of the greats who had once helped make Don Revie’s Leeds United the most feared team around lined up on the touchline, the message ‘Eleven Pauls’ suddenly appeared in the South Stand.

Funded by supporters, many of whom had been too young to watch Paul Madeley on anything but video or DVD, this mosaic of cards was a lovely moment among many as Elland Road honoured one of its favourite sons following his death at the age of 73 last month.

Leeds head coach Marcelo Bielsa. (Picture: Tony Johnson)

Leeds head coach Marcelo Bielsa. (Picture: Tony Johnson)

Perhaps the best tribute of all, however, to this one-club stalwart came via the sort of team performance that brimmed with so many of the qualities possessed by the man christened the ‘Rolls Royce of footballers’ by Revie.

There was the trademark power that characterised his 700-plus appearances for Leeds as Marcelo Bielsa’s side made light work of much-fancied Stoke City.

Also on display from the current crop was Madeley’s unflappable nature and the grace he brought to the white shirt, along with the tackling ability that ensured every opponent stayed tackled long after he was up and away with the ball.

And then there was the versatility that saw Madeley not just play in every outfield position but star in them. ‘The Eleven Pauls are never far away’ is the line from the 1972 FA Cup final song that neatly captured how Madeley was seen by all at Elland Road.

The tireless Kemar Roofe led the way up front but he was far from alone as Samuel Saiz shook off the lethargy that had enveloped the Spaniard in the second half of last season.

Richard Sutcliffe

Like Madeley in his heyday, those representing Leeds yesterday seemed capable of playing anywhere on the field.

Be it goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell racing from his penalty area and heading the ball clear of danger with all the power of a centre-half or Pablo Hernandez popping up as the last man to deny Joe Allen what would surely have been a routine finish from five yards, this was the ‘total football’ that Bielsa had promised on his arrival in England.

Then there was Gaetano Berardi, a full-back for most of his four years at Elland Road, straining every sinew of his 5ft 9in frame as centre-half to out-jump Benik Afobe.

Through all this, Bielsa barely moved an inch. Sitting on an upturned bucket to the left of the home technical area, the Argentinian’s expression gave little hint that he was sharing in the enjoyment that was being had on all four sides of Elland Road.

Leeds captain Liam Cooper scores the third goal (Picture: Varleys)

Leeds captain Liam Cooper scores the third goal (Picture: Varleys)

Stoke’s starting XI featured 10 players who had been in the Premier League as recently as last May. Even the odd man out, Peter Etebo, was in La Liga before moving to England for £6.35m this summer. He also had an impressive World Cup.

Leeds, though, simply did not care about reputation. Instead, they tore into Gary Rowett’s team with such ferocity that a couple of the visiting players could be seen exchanging glances early on, as if to say, ‘What the hell’s going on here?’

Bielsa had his players working from 8am to 8pm in pre-season. Judging by this high-pressing, high-energy display, those hours were put to good use.

The tireless Kemar Roofe led the way up front but he was far from alone as Samuel Saiz shook off the lethargy that had enveloped the Spaniard in the second half of last season.

Kalvin Phillips was another who the reboot under Bielsa has clearly suited, the Academy product dictating proceedings from his patrolling area either just in front of the back four or when dropping back to supplement the defence when Luke Ayling and Barry Douglas bombed forward from wing-back.

He played a key early role in the opening goal, as a move that began deep in home territory culminated in Saiz threading a delightful pass through for Mateusz Klich.

The Pole, who made just one league start last term before being shipped out on loan to FC Utrecht in January, initially took a heavy touch. But Klich more than made up for this with his second as Jack Butland was beaten with a low shot.

Stoke’s England goalkeeper was picking the ball out of the net again in first-half stoppage time, Hernandez this time doing the honours with a drilled shot from 18 yards that Butland looked to have saved only for the ball to squirm from his grasp and over the line.

In between those two strikes, Ezgjan Alioski brought a fine reflex save from Butland with a volley and Roofe rolled a shot just wide.

Stoke, however, carried a threat of their own with Tom Ince clipping the top of the crossbar in the first half and James McClean wasting a glorious opportunity.

Gary Rowett’s men did pull a goal back seven minutes after the restart when Afobe fired in a penalty after Barry Douglas had clumsily tripped Ince.

But Leeds – and Douglas – made amends just before the hour mark when the left-back’s in-swinging corner allowed Liam Cooper to lose his marker and flick a header beyond Butland.

There was no way back for Stoke after that as Elland Road lapped up a display made all the more remarkable by it coming largely with the personnel who had been so wretchedly awful from January onwards last term.

Only Douglas of the summer signings made the Argentinian’s first line-up and yet Leeds couldn’t have put in a more contrasting shift than those sorry efforts under, first, Thomas Christiansen and then Paul Heckingbottom.

How the watching Allan Clarke, John Giles et al must have loved every second as their old club paid a fitting tribute to Madeley and, in the process, served notice that this could be a season to savour.