Football Features

Bielsa’s boys bruise Class of ’92: Winners & losers as Nketiah opens account in Salford 0-3 Leeds

By Ben Green

Published: 21:53, 13 August 2019

In this mini version of the Pennines derby Leeds United breezed past Salford City 3-0 in the Carabao Cup first round.

It was an intense opening 45 minutes with the Manchester-based club standing firm against Marcelo Bielsa’s side, but debutant Eddie Nketiah eventually found the back of the net in the dying embers of the first half.

And from there Leeds were in full stride, scoring just minutes into the second half through Gaetano Berardi, who guided the ball past Chris Neal from a Helder Costa corner before Mateusz Klich made it three in the 58th minute.

The result takes Bielsa’s boys into the second round of this domestic cup competition – where they will face Stoke City – but who were the winners and losers from the first ever encounter between Leeds and Salford?

Winner: Eddie Nketiah

Having signed on a season-long loan from Arsenal on deadline day to remedy Leeds’ gaping lacuna up top following the shock departure of Kemar Roofe to Vincent Kompany’s Anderlecht, Nketiah was afforded a starting berth and debut appearance this evening, and he duly took his opportunity, opening his account just on the stroke of half time.

The Lewisham-born marksman had struggled in the opening exchanges as Graham Alexander’s side put up an imperious defensive showing, but as the interval approached, the 20-year-old burst into the box and found ample room to tuck home from a delightful Costa delivery.

Such is Bielsa’s meticulous nature and almost psychotic obsession with the very finite details of the sport, he had sent scouts to watch Nketiah over 20 times before he decided the fledgling forward was the right player for his system, and early signs vindicate his extensive research.

Nketiah was one the standout performers for Arsenal during pre-season, netting goals against the likes of Bayern Munich and Fiorentina, so he joins the West Yorkshire club with pedigree, and having previously been coach by Thierry Henry, he could prove the deciding factor between promotion and plateau this season – heck he has even opted for the No.14 jersey, so it could be written in the stars.

Loser: Class of ’92

Of course, this was always a bit of a free hit for Salford City who were never expected to beat a Bielsa-inspired Leeds United, but that doesn’t mean defeat won’t come as a disappointment for joint-owners Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and David Beckham, the esteemed alumni of Manchester United.

With the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson and Denis Law in attendance, the magnitude of this occasion was manifest in the terraces; there was always going to be an added spice in the air, such is the historical bitterness between Man Utd and Leeds Utd.

And this microcosm of the Roses rivalry was certainly a heavily contested affair in the first half, but once Leeds found the back of the net, the floodgates were open and it was routine Bielsa from then on in.

The manner of defeat will no doubt bruise a few egos, but by and large Salford gave a very solid account of themselves, certainly in the first 45 minutes, in what was a first ever encounter between these two sides.

Winner: Helder Costa

The Wolves loanee has so far started both of Leeds’ opening Championship matches on the bench, failing to dislodge either Pablo Hernandez or Jack Harrison since relocating from Molineux, but he was handed a debut start this evening, and like Nketiah, he justified his inclusion on the team sheet.

Costa was another who was initially quiet in the early stages of this contest as Salford set up a resilient defensive structure, but it was the Portuguese winger’s moment of inspiration that eventually breached the Ammies.

With the Whites dominating possession but seldom threatening Chris Neal in the first half, an incisive Jamie Shackleton pass found its way to Costa who, on his weaker foot, delivered a low drive into the path of Nketiah.

And he would be at it again just after the restart, with his low-whipped corner teeing up Gaetano Berardi who diverted the ball into the back of the net, and from there, it was pretty much curtains for the Greater Manchester club.

Loser: Kiko Casilla

Quite how a goalkeeper who kept a clean sheet can make a list of losers is staggering really, but that is exactly what the former Real Madrid man has managed, simply for not learning from his mistakes in the Championship play-offs – looking untidy whenever Salford delivered into the box.

As far as shot stopping goes, the Spanish gloveman is up there with the best in the English game at present, but he simply doesn’t install confidence into his backline whenever the ball is whipped into the area.

His uncertain hands nearly gifted Salford a goal in the closing exchanges of this match after he tried to claim a ball and completely missed it, allowing Nathan Pond to almost grab a consolation before Davis spared his blushes by diverting the shot wide.

And moments later his parry from a Richie Towell shot was pushed straight back into the path of Adam Rooney rather than away from goal, but again the subsequent shot failed to find the back of the net, much to the relief of Casilla.

Winner: Aidy Boothroyd

Among the star-stubbed attendees and footballing luminaries gathered in Moor Lane this evening, there was also England Under-21 head coach Aidy Boothroyd, who took the opportunity to observe some of Leeds’ promising youngster ahead of future squad selections for the Young Lions.

Fortunately for Boothroyd, Bielsa didn’t disappoint in his team selection, tinkering with his tactics from the weekend’s underwhelming draw to Nottingham Forest by deploying a number of academy graduates and talented tyros.

The likes of Nketiah and Spurs’ summer signing, Jack Clarke, shone against an incredibly compact Salford defence, while there were also notable performances from 19-year-old duo Shackleton and Leif Davis who both looked tidy in possession and assured when under pressure.

Of course, one of the standout flaws in Boothroyd’s England side from their embarrassing group stage exit in the Uefa Under-21 Championships two months ago was in the striker department, with only one of the nation’s six goals coming from a No.9: Tammy Abraham. The performance of Nketiah, therefore, will no doubt have caught his attention.