Swansea City v Leeds United - ‘We know Leeds are strongest team in the league’, says Gjanni Alioski

ONE of the things Ezgjan Alioski admires most about Marcelo Bielsa is that win, lose or draw, the coach will always turn up for work at Thorp Arch the same person. It is a lead his team are trying to follow, which is why Alioski says playing last in the Championship title race is irrelevant.

Leeds United's Ezgjan Alioski. Picture Bruce Rollinson

So is which team scores first, how many Leeds United score, whether he starts or comes off the bench, what happened last season – everything, in fact, except winning the famous Football League trophy.

Today, as in midweek, West Bromwich Albion and Brentford will be given the chance to ramp up the pressure and see how Leeds respond at Swansea City tomorrow.

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On Tuesday, the Bees came from behind to maintain English football’s only 100 per cent post-resumption record and stay on the top two’s heels. On Wednesday, West Brom took back the leadership of the division. Leeds’s response? A 5-0 win at home to Stoke City.

Watching that, it was no wonder Alioski claims to always be confident his side will win and adamant the Whites “need” to go up as champions. The key, he says, is ignoring what is going on around them.

“Everybody is speaking or thinking about the six points, the difference (between Leeds and third-placed Brentford),” he freely admits.

“The team knows of course that we have the six points but it’s like we start from zero. The next game comes very quickly so we can’t think of the six points.

“The best thing is to wait until it (the season) is finished and we can see how many points more we have than the other teams.

“Brentford need to hope that we don’t win. We don’t need to hope that they lose because we know we are the strongest team in the league and we know we are going to beat the other team so Brentford is the team that needs to think we need to lose.

“If we win like we did on Thursday it doesn’t matter what the teams behind us are doing.”

Liam Cooper, who as Leeds captain sets the mentality of the dressing room, admits it is easier said than done.

“You’ve got to be professional,” says the centre-back. “We prepare the same, we do everything the same, we’re just playing last. I’d be lying if I said we didn’t look at other results because it’s that time of the season where everybody does but we know what we need to do. We know we need to concentrate on us, and us only. The rest will take care of itself.”

That focus is what Alioski is striving for.

“A mistake can happen at any time, especially because teams that play against us give more than 100 per cent and this means we also need to give more than 100 per cent,” he argues. “We are doing this and we always want to do this.

“The team is fit, the team is ready, the team has a lot of confidence and it was good that we scored five goals (on Thursday).

“We can score more and every game should be like this because we create a lot of chances and in every game we can have three or four goals more.

“But what’s important is not how many goals we score, what’s important is only to win.

“It’s always important when we score the first goal (for the last 13 games Leeds have only won when doing so). It makes it very difficult for the other team because they know they can’t stay on the back foot like they do at 0-0. When it’s 1-0 the energy is coming from our team but even if we don’t score the first goal I always believe we’re going to win.”

That confidence translates to Alioski’s target for the season. After 16 years out of the Premier League, many Leeds fans would take promotion by hook or by crook. Not the Macedonian.
“This team deserves only to win the league,” he says. “It’s much better (than the rest). Of course, the first two teams go up but to win the league you show that we are the best team.”

Being such a good team makes it hard for the likes of Alioski to break into it, despite his versatility. He has made only one start since the resumption even after some impressive performances from the bench.

“It doesn’t matter,” he insists. “We have a good team and a lot of quality. Every player wants to play but the coach knows what to do and we have followed his decisions from the first day he arrived. That’s it.

“Each player knows when he (Bielsa) arrives at the training ground it doesn’t matter if we’ve won 5-0, 6-0 or drawn, every time we see him it’s the same person. He doesn’t change, he doesn’t want us to relax. He always wants us to learn. Even if it’s a small thing, you learn it.

“I enjoy every minute playing for Leeds United, if it’s 10 minutes, one minute, if I start, it doesn’t matter. I’m always happy to be on the pitch helping this team but if I play or not, it doesn’t matter.”

Leeds looked pretty impressive last season too, only to take one point from the final four games. More or less the same group of players does not appear to have the same fragility 14 months on.

“Forget last season,” says Alioski. “It’s a new season, we are better than last season, we work harder, we know what qualities we have.

“We know we didn’t do it (win promotion) last season but we need to forget this.

“We know the squad is able to win the league and we can do this but the Premier League is still far off. Of course it looks near, it looks so close but it’s still far.

“We are still not there and we need to get there game by game to get to the Premier League.

“I understand everybody talking about the meaning of us getting into the Premier League and it’s nice to think about it, to feel it, but it was like this last year too. When it was so close we were speaking about it.

“We need to just think about the next game because we are still not there, we need to think game by game.”

Clearly, nothing else matters to Alioski.

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