Football Features

Leeds Utd 4-3 Fulham: The Grantham Cavani steps up for the Premier League’s new most-watchable team

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 17:35, 19 September 2020

In a sensational afternoon of football, Leeds beat Fulham 4-3 at Elland Road to get their first win of the season.

Marcelo Bielsa’s style of play is an absolute thrill to watch, but is only ever effective when the lead striker is scoring. Humberto Suazo, Fernando Llorente, Patrick Bamford. At first that list reads like a joke, given how it ends, but don’t be so quick to judge.

Bielsa has always needed a striker to do the business because otherwise when his frenetic style of play eventually exhausts his players in the latter stages of matches, they will probably only be level (or worse) and so an opponent will be able to overpower and defeat them.

Look at the match against Fulham, where Leeds were 4-1 up and cruising before a lull in the intensity of their play led to a Fulham rally. Two goals in 10 minutes and suddenly the match was on a knife-edge again.

Of course one of the main problems a forward in the Bielsa system faces is that the very nature of the system itself is so physically draining that it’s hard to retain the physical and mental focus needed to then finish effectively when you’re given the chance.

Patrick Bamford scored 16 goals for Leeds last season as they were promoted last season. Far from a spectacular total. What was a spectacular total was the 33 big chances that he missed, 15 more than any other player. Only three players in total missed more than 15 chances. He was spectacularly wasteful and at 27 years of age couldn’t even use inexperience as an excuse.

But he was the best that Leeds had, so they made do. And when time came to reinforce in the summer they brought in Rodrigo, a wide-forward rather than a central striker. They bet on Bamford, and so far? He’s turned up for Bielsa and Leeds in a big bad way.

Bamford bagged a goal in defeat against Liverpool, taking advantage of Virgil van Dijk’s error to score nicely. But against Fulham there was no such error putting the ball on a plate for him, he was going to have to take his chances on his own merit.

And he did just that. Whilst Helder Costa’s two storming finishes took the headlines, Bamford showed the kind of ruthless streak that is so unusual for him. 33 missed big chances! Yet against Liverpool he had just two shots and scored one. Against Fulham? He only had one shot. One moment when he was played through, and he finished so cooly and confidently.

A superb turn and pass from Mateusz Klich in midfield saw him thread the ball through for Bamford who was coming in off the left. The Englishman took one touch, measured the goalkeeper up, then slotted the ball calmly into the far corner of the net.

One chance, one shot, one goal. It put Leeds 3-1 up and left them in an incredibly commanding position.

Edinson Cavani was a player who always faced criticism for how many chances he missed. And true enough, since the start of 2016/17, no one has missed more big chances in Ligue 1 than the Uruguayan’s 86. However no one has scored more big chances than Cavani’s 75, and no one has scored more goals than the Uruguayn’s 85.

Cavani missed so many because his pressing and movement put him in position for them, but also left him so physically drained that he couldn’t always focus on the finish. However PSG showed faith with him because of everything else he brought to the table and so just kept on churning out chances for the Uruguayan until he ended up scoring loads anyway.

Which is to say that Marcelo Bielsa was right to show faith in Patrick Bamford, his own Edinson Cavani, because he brings so much more to the table. We saw that elsewhere in the game where Bamford won Leeds’ penalty for the second goal and then for the fourth goal and ultimate game winner Bamford drove superbly down the left of the pitch, leaving Dennis Odoi for dead with a stepover before fizzing a low cross into the box for Helder Costa to finish. A stunningly effective display from Leeds’ frontman.

So far, Marcelo Bielsa is being rewarded for the faith shown in Bamford. Sure, Bamford will miss big chances this season, but as long as Leeds keep on creating them for him he should eventually score about as many as he misses and end up racking up a considerable amount of goals for his side as a result.

Hell, he already has 2 in a 2, which is a promising start. And according to the man himself he isn’t even fully fit yet. When asked about the physical strains of Marcelo Bielsa, he said: “[In the] first 20 minutes of last weekend and this weekend I was really blowing.” But Bamford battled through that to deliver goals for his side, so just how good could he be when he’s truly fit?

Leeds’ survival is going to depend on many things, but one of them is definitely the goalscoring form of the Grantham Cavani.