Leeds United v Burton Albion: Spanish influence rubbing off as new-look Whites start to impress

Leeds United's Pablo Hernandez skips away from Preston's Paul Huntington.
Leeds United's Pablo Hernandez skips away from Preston's Paul Huntington.
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LEEDS UNITED may not be currently blessed with their own footballing version of the Three Amigos in their first-team ranks, but given the evidence of this season so far, two is plenty.

It was across the Pennines at Wigan Athletic in the mid-nineties where Real Zaragoza B trio Roberto Martinez, Jesus Seba and Isidro Diaz were famously handed that moniker – inspired by the name of the film starring Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short – after swapping Spain for Lancashire.

Despite contrasting fortunes, the Spanish trio enjoyed cult status in Wigan and are fondly remembered to this day. And across at Leeds, their two fellow Iberians in the shape of Pablo Hernandez and Samuel Saiz are similarly making friends and influencing people.

Some classy, eye-catching contributions from ex-Swansea City attacking midfielder Hernandez lit up spells of last season. And now he has an accomplice in Saiz.

The former Huesca player has also showcased skills which have borne the imprint of Spanish footballing sophistication in his early weeks at Elland Road – and seriously whetted the appetite for more in the process.

Hernandez, who has moved to a wider role to accommodate the arrival of Saiz and Gianni Alioski, knew plenty on the Spanish grapevine about Saiz ahead of his arrival and all of it was good.

On the addition of Saiz, Hernandez, who believes that United’s continental-themed squad make them a stronger entity than last season, said: “It is good because he is a Spanish boy and a very good player.

“It is good for the club to sign him this year. He can help the team win points.

“I haven’t played against him, but I know him. I watched some games with Huesca last year and I know he played for Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid’s young teams. He’s a good player.

“Sometimes, it is difficult for Spanish players to come to England and adapt to this league. But I think he is very good and his football is good quality. People speak about him in Spain.

“I think now more (Spanish) people follow Leeds United now because there are more Spanish players and the staff are Spanish. More people know Leeds in Spain.”

Before a ball was kicked this season, it is fair to say that the jury was very much out as to whether United’s intake of European arrivals could make an impact in the unforgiving Championship.

It may still be early days, but the signs have been wholly encouraging so far, given some vibrant displays against the likes of Nottingham Forest, Sunderland and Bolton which have reflected well in terms of the acumen of both director of football Victor Orta and head coach Thomas Christiansen.

With a bumper crowd of 30,000-plus supporters to take their seats at Elland Road against Burton this afternoon, it is clear that fans have also been greatly enthused by what they have witnessed on the pitch, with September presenting an opportunity for significant momentum to be generated.

When the brochure was shown to the likes of Hernandez and Saiz ahead of making their decisions to join Leeds, it is days like today that they will have read about and been eager to sample.

Given his senior status at 32, age is likely to crystallise Hernandez’s desire to fully enjoy these days too.

After his time playing at another famous footballing cathedral in Valencia’s Mestalla Stadium, Hernandez believes he is playing another of the game’s special venues in Elland Road.

Hernandez added: “The Leeds fans are unbelievable with their support for us. Not only at home, but also to the other cities where we play. They always follow us.

“For the players, this is very important. We have an unbelievable feeling when we got to the pitch and watch all the fans. This can help us a lot in the future to try and go to the Premier League.

“When I arrived here, I had played in the Premier League at Swansea and the first division in Spain. I may have played in the Championship here, but I feel this is a big club which deserves to play in the Premier League and I hope to play in the Premier League in the future.

“I hope in the next year, but if not, in the next year (after that).”

Back-to-back home games against Burton and Birmingham in the coming four days provide Leeds with an opportunity to turn a very good start to the campaign to a truly excellent one – although Hernandez is minded to be wary of today’s opponents.

It was the Brewers who arguably inflicted the most grievous wound to Leeds in last season’s agonisingly ‘nearly’ campaign of 2016-17 with a 2-1 victory at the Pirelli Stadium applying the death knell to the club’s Championship play-off bid on a dark spring afternoon.

Hernandez remembers the pain of that day in Staffordshire well and while Leeds have moved on relatively quickly since, it still represents a bitter moment – and he and his colleagues certainly will not be treating Burton lightly today

Hernandez said: “Of course, we remember this. We played against Burton and needed the three points to keep the play-off position and we lost.

“But this is the past and what is more important now is to forget this and only focus on the future and on this game. We know if we give 100 per cent on the pitch, we have a lot of chances to win the game.

“Sometimes, these games are very dangerous because we are at home and third in the table. Some will think: ‘Leeds will have an easy win’ and I think that this is a mistake.

“But we know this and have spoken about it this week. We must not have too much confidence, but sometimes when this happens, you are not ready to compete.

“We will need patience because possession of the ball is important. Then we must continue in the same lines as the last games.”