With just 35 per cent of the first-half possession, the Whites were grateful for Fulham's lack of cutting edge in an opening period where Patrick Bamford snaffled his chance. As they had at Cardiff City, Leeds were wasteful in their passing, and glad of the break.
After it, and the introduction of Pablo Hernandez and Ezgjan Alioski, they were a completely different prospect, deadly on the counter-attack. The result was a 3-0 win which, after Brentford's Friday night win at West Bromwich Albion, has left Fulham way off the pace to catch Leeds, and cemented the Yorkshire side's position as title favourites.
The first half was played with a real intensity, partly because of Aleksandar Mitrovic's foul on Ben White inside 87 seconds, but the Cottagers had much the best of it.
The centre-forward was extremely fortunate not to be red-carded for what looked like a pre-meditated elbow into the head of the Leeds centre-back.
It would be incredible and unjust if the Serbian escaped without a retrospective suspension, but he was allowed to continue the game.
With the ball at their feet, though, the Cottagers struggled to hurt Leeds, forcing Illan Meslier into only one save during an opening 45 minutes in which they had 65 per cent of possession – extremely rare against a Bielsa side.
Although this was Elland Road's first behind-closed-doors game since the coronavirus pandemic, the Whites still managed to make it feel like a home game.
The stands were stunning, with 15,000 cardboard “crowdies” giving the appearance of business, and banners to Norman Hunter and Trevor Cherry, two former players who died during the pandemic and were remembered with a minute's silence before kick-off. The only crowd noise pumped in during the game was bursts when Bamford, Alioski and Jack Harrison scored and when the over-eager operator thought Harrison had. The players ran out to “Marching on Together” as usual, and there was applause from the staff dotted around the centre of the main stand when Leeds went in front.
The move started with a Luke Ayling throw-in deep in his side's half in the 10th minute. Helder Costa went down the right and squared for Bamford to hit a precise finish from the edge of the area. Played through right at the end of the half, he stabbed another good chance wide of the onrushing Marek Rodak.
Most of the chances fell to the Cottagers' however, with Anthony Knockaert particularly wasteful. He regularly cutting in off the right but only once working Meslier. Even then the shot may have been going wide, but the goalkeeper dived left just in case.
Fulham were incensed to be denied a 35th-minute penalty. The players crowded around referee Tony Harrington complaining about a Tyler Roberts handball as the ball skipped up following a poor touch, but they may have had more of a case for Liam Cooper pulling Mitrovic's shirt at the initial corner.
Once Hernandez was introduced to give Leeds control of the midfield and Roberts moved up front to run behind onto the passes played, Leeds looked a completely different prospect.
Harrison looked like he had scored from Roberts' 51st-minute pull-back, but as the noise of a celebrating crowd rang out, his shot thumped into the advertising hoardings.
Already, though, it was clear how the game had turned.
Meslier topped a Knockaert free-kick over the bar and when he caught Bobby Decordova-Reid's effort from the corner, he sprang a counter-attack which ended with Harrison crossing, Roberts unable to get on the end of the delivery and Alioski sweeping home, 12 minutes after his introduction.
When Harrison completed the scoring in the 72nd minute, outmuscling Bryan, three Leeds players ran straight to Hernandez, whose brilliant ball had released him.
That Henandez was substituted in stoppage time, as field Neeskens Kebano was making his way off the field following his second yellow card, was the only down-point of Leeds's day. Coach Bielsa played it down afterwards, saying it was a precaution, and that 45 minutes would suffice for him.
The Spaniard had certainly done enough.
LEEDS UNITED: Meslier; Ayling, White, Cooper, Dallas; Phillips; Costa (Alioski 45), Klich (Douglas 80), Roberts, Harrison (Poveda 83); Bamford (Hernandez 45 (Shackleton 90+1)).
Substitutes: Miazek, Berardi, Stevens, Struijk.
FULHAM: Rodak; Odoi, Ream, Bryan (Le Marchand 74), Hector; Reed, Arter (Kebano 63); Knockaert (Cavaleiro 70), Cairney (Johansen 74), Decordova-Reid (Onomah 74); Mitrovic.
Substitutes: Betinelli, McDonald, Christie, Sessegnon.
Referee: Tony Harrington (Teesside).
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