Here are our five takeaways from Leeds United’s 2-1 Championship triumph over Bristol City at Elland Road, with Daniel James and Joel Piroe scoring the game-winning goals.
The week they required
Leeds United’s loss to Southampton was far from a calamity after bringing a six-match unbeaten streak down to Hampshire. The style of that defeat was troubling, and it demanded a response with two hugely winnable home games before the international break.
The scorelines this week reflect the anxieties that surfaced late in each match, but they tell little about the dominance the Whites displayed for long periods against both Queens Park Rangers and Bristol City. Daniel Farke understood his team needed to take care of business and finish off two bread-and-butter meals that serve as the foundations of Championship promotion tilts.
With the exception of Kal Naismith’s header, this was a near-perfect week that repaired any damage done at St Mary’s Stadium. Joe Rodon reminded everyone of his value to the team, Pascal Struijk had a spring in his step, Sam Byram was at his highest level of the season, Glen Kamara practically ran yesterday’s game, and the front four scored.
The excitement around Archie Gray’s debut in senior football faded only because the 17-year-old was so consistently outstanding in midfield that it had become the norm. Everyone had grown accustomed to what this adolescent was doing on the football field and had begun to take it for granted.
Kamara has been effective in recent weeks in keeping the midfield fresh and relieving Gray, who started the opening nine games of the season in a row with only late substitutes to manage his minutes. Despite this, it appears that we have returned to square one.
Gray’s inspired switch to right-back had us all reaching for the thesaurus once more. Seeing him in a new job and displaying such dominance there right away reminded me of how it felt to see him at the start of the season.
New demands are placed on this boy’s shoulders, and he scarcely blinks. Gray did not make a mistake in his new role, and while Farke has stated that each opponent has different tactical requirements, the temptation to retain the teen there is enormous.
Gray can not only invert like many current full-backs and demonstrate the technical proficiency required as an auxiliary midfielder, but he also has the pace and dynamism to burst up and down that flank. Making room in the center for someone of Kamara’s caliber is also a positive byproduct.
Not only was Luke Ayling battling Djed Spence for minutes this season, but Gray has now made as good a case as anyone else to stay in this section of the club. Gray scored for England as a right-back at this year’s UEFA European Under-17 Championship, so he’s not a total newcomer, but the jump from there to here is significant.
The more he adds diversity to his arsenal of technical, mental, and physical abilities, the more difficult it will be to avoid parallels to recent English midfielders who burst into the scene at the age of 17.
Byram continues to improve.
The season is long, and we are just a quarter of the way through it, but Byram has to be one of the Championship signings of the year based on the first two months. Injuries will ultimately define how effective the full-back is, as they have for much of his recent career.
If the 30-year-old can stay fit enough to start eight of every eleven league games between now and the end of the season, it would be fair betting that Byram ends up in the Elland Road player of the year conversation.
Ethan Ampadu, Struijk, Gray, and Georginio Rutter have all attracted the eye, but Byram has arguably beaten them all to this point. The Thorp Arch academy product’s football intellect encapsulates why West Ham United approached him all those years ago.
This is a Premier League defender whose body has let him down for far too long. It’s fair to say that there were big misgivings in the media about Leeds signing a player with Byram’s injury record in the summer, especially to play a position where they’ve failed to find a trustworthy keeper for so long.
Up to this moment, Byram’s made us all eat our words. He knows when to attack, when to defend, where to position himself for teammates, what type of pass they want and when they want it to be played.
Two late blocks that saved the three points were icing on the cake he had already fashioned with such finesse on Saturday afternoon. He needs to stay in shape.
Kamara demonstrates himself
Kamara struggled to get off to a good start at Elland Road due to ostracization from Glasgow Rangers’ pre-season program. Farke was only able to introduce the 27-year-old in bits and starts, but Finland duty was extremely beneficial during the previous international break.
His complete debut against Watford was adequate, if overshadowed by a few other players hitting new heights in white, whereas Southampton was a bad day for everyone. Kamara’s official arrival was yesterday, the culmination of weeks spent honing his skills and integrating with his new colleagues.
The former Arsenal trainee complemented Ampadu’s penchant to sit, disrupt, and distribute. Kamara roams further forward, stealing opposing possession in difficult locations, instigates turnovers, and initiates counter-attacks.
Kamara was instrumental in both of United’s goals on Saturday. The Finn generated the pressure that allowed Rutter to set up Daniel James before displaying the ideal pass delay to assist Joel Piroe for the second goal.
Gray’s move to right-back created space for Kamara to return, and Farke will struggle to resist the temptation of starting them both, along with Ampadu, without jeopardizing his 4-2-3-1 preference.
Are you ahead of the game?
We are now entering the second international break, which provides another crucial opportunity for Farke and his players, at least those who are not with their respective countries, to reset their minds and bodies. Farke has 13 days until perhaps his most important match of the season, against Norwich City at Carrow Road.
While Leicester City and Ipswich Town threaten to create records for the biggest top-two point totals in second-tier history, the Whites and their 11-point disadvantage are easy to dismiss. However, coming back from a difficult August to get within one point of Preston North End, the previous pacesetter, is no easy task.
Whatever the top two do, Leeds are still ahead of where Farke’s Norwich were after 11 games in 2018/19, when they won the league with 94 points. The Canaries had 18 at this point five years ago, while Leeds now have 19 following yesterday’s win.
Farke’s title winners three years ago, on the other hand, were 19 points clear of United at the same time. In 2020, they had 21 points from 11 games. In any case, the Whites are in the mix and close to where the Germans want to be in early October.
On the other side of the break, United will face the 16th, 21st, 13th, first, and 20th-placed teams in the form table (based on the last six matches) before the final round of internationals before March. That was a tasty run.