FOR the vast majority of the 2018-19 campaign, yesterday’s encounter Down Under between Leeds United and Manchester United looked likely to involve two teams back alongside one another in the Premier League.
Defeat to Derby County in the Championship play-off semi-finals put paid to that possibility, however, meaning Leeds lined up against their long-time rivals from across the Pennines as part of their preparations for another season of Championship football.
When looking down through Manchester United’s eye-watering team sheet, the game in Perth was also a reminder of just what the upper reaches of the top flight has to offer in comparison.
Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford, Juan Mata to name but a few, plus Leeds’s January transfer window target Daniel James. Then there were the likes of Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial sitting on the bench.
Maybe we had some moments that we could score but, in the end, they were superior to us.Diego Flores
Even without the unwell David De Gea and rested Romelu Lukaku, facing the Red Devils would have been a tough ask at the best of times – let alone with several first-teamers back at Thorp Arch concentrating on their fitness, as was the wish of head coach Marcelo Bielsa.
As Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side lined up with 13 substitutes, Leeds arrived with five, boasting only two first-team outings between them. It was always going to be a tall order and the 4-0 defeat was a rather predictable outcome.
Yesterday’s 90 minutes hammered home a message highlighted all too often last season – that Bielsa’s otherwise impressive team can ill-afford to be so wasteful in front of goal and that question marks remain over United’s back line, especially following Pontus Jansson’s sale to Brentford.
In fairness to Leeds’s defence, when it comes to the forthcoming Championship campaign, they will probably not face an examination similar to the one asked of them in Perth.
Yet even against one of the best teams around, Leeds’s first-half showing featured invention and endeavour, albeit without a goal for their efforts.
Encouragingly, the Whites lined up with a side that ought to be considerably stronger come their opening weekend visit to Bristol City on August 4.
Marquee summer signing Helder Costa, Polish international Mateusz Klich, centre-back Ben White, Jamie Shackleton and right-back Luke Ayling all remain back at Thorp Arch along with Jack Clarke, Gjanni Alioski, Tyler Roberts and goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell.
It was an early opening strike from Bradford-born teenager Mason Greenwood that put the Premier League club ahead, before the enigmatic Pogba blazed a free-kick just wide and then produced a strong save from Kiko Casilla.
Leeds gradually began to show what they can offer. Jack Harrison looked lively on the left flank and the Manchester City loanee fired an effort into the side netting.
Pogba then curled a good attempt just wide before Pablo Hernandez fired straight at Sergio Romero, who also saved Patrick Bamford’s low shot from a Harrison cross.
Shortly after, Solskjaer’s team doubled their lead with a three-on-two counter-attack, Scott McTominay feeding Rashford, who left Gaetano Berardi on his backside before calmly slotting home past Casilla.
Leeds continued to attack, however, and Hernandez saw a shot deflected wide before Kemar Roofe put a header straight at Romero. A low Dallas cross was then hacked away before the post saved Leeds from conceding a third to former Swansea winger James.
At the break, Solskjaer changed his entire team, enjoying the luxury of bringing on the likes of Lingard, Martial and the highly-rated Tahith Chong in attack.
By contrast, Leeds came out for the second half unchanged and with tiring legs facing even more pace, more problems arrived, but only after Harrison squandered a fine chance when hitting a weak shot wide from inside the box.
It was Andreas Pereira’s turn to cause Leeds problems, first being denied by a smart save from Casilla before his pinpoint corner was powered home by a towering header from Phil Jones.
Harrison squandered another opportunity before the final blow came down the other end when Liam Cooper hacked down the skilful Chong for a penalty which was coolly slotted home by Martial.
With Bielsa analysing his side’s loss, it was left to assistant coach Diego Flores to attend the post-match press conference.
“It was a difficult match,” he said. “There is a difference in quality in the players and they play better than us. Maybe we had some moments that we could score but, in the end, they were superior to us.”
While Solskjaer and his team head off to Singapore for a weekend date with Inter Milan, Leeds remain in Australia, heading east to take on Western Sydney Wanderers on Saturday.