The Marcelo Bielsa revolution continues apace at Leeds, who returned to the top of the Championship table thanks to two goals in five first-half minutes and a smashing second-half strike by Pablo Hernández. The Spaniard’s finish came after Mateusz Klich and Ezgjan Alioski had struck a quickfire salvo and left Leeds with 13 points from 15 available since the enthronement of Bielsa, who is applying a new method at Leeds and fuelling hopes of a long-awaited return to the top flight, from which Leeds have been estranged since 2004.
With 41 matches to go in the regular season no one is counting chickens even if Leeds fans crowed about their supremacy here. That is part of the fun of supporting a team that is making progress after years of thwarted ambition. Norwich fans also have lofty aims but spirits are not high at Carrow Road, where the home fans reacted to this result with boos.
And yet, the hosts began brightly here, in more ways than one. Bielsa may be famously fastidious but he is not the only manager to explore tiny details in search of an advantage. Norwich painted their away dressing room pink during the summer following advice that the colour could lower opponent’s testosterone and blunt their edge. Bielsa laughed off that theory, quipping during the buildup: “the pink colour is linked to women … men can’t say women are not a source of stimulation”.
Decor aside, this was a stiff test for Leeds and for 20 minutes Norwich made them seem flat. Daniel Farke preaches a fast-paced and enterprising approach not a million miles from the one that Bielsa is cultivating at Leeds and, after gaining their first win of the season here over Preston on Wednesday, the hosts made a vigorous start.
They looked physically stronger than the visitors but also sharper and they cut through Leeds several times, especially down the right, where Ivo Pinto made regular incursions from full-back.
Pinto was the source of a wonderful chance for Norwich in the 13th minute when he fed Teemu Pukki, whose run through the middle exposed a gap in Leeds’ midfield similar to the one that had opened up for Swansea’s first goal against them on Tuesday. But this time Pontus Jansson came to the rescue, marking his first league start of the campaign with a fine sliding tackle to deflect Pukki’s effort wide.
Under Bielsa Leeds aim to advance with mechanical precision and human ingenuity. It is a beautiful idea but hard to execute, as the slightest imprecision makes moves collapse. But in the 21st minute they clicked here and Norwich were doomed. Hernández clipped a dainty pass over to Alioski, whose plunging header was parried by Tim Krul. The rebound fell to Klich, who stroked into the net from 15 yards. No player has benefitted from Bielsa’s arrival more than the Pole, who has scored three goals in his first league matches of the season having barely featured in the last campaign before being packed off on loan to Utrecht.
Confidence made Leeds’ timing slicker. They scored again within five minutes following another intricate passing sequence, Kemar Roofe and Barry Douglas involved before Alioski thrashed a shot past Krul from an angle that the goalkeeper should have ensured was impossible.
Norwich would have halved the deficit before the break if not for a pair of blocks by Kalvan Phillips, first from Pukki and then from a header by Timm Klose. Phillips was substituted after 27 minutes against Swansea but his performance here was an admirable response to that embarrassment.
Phillips was key as Leeds controlled the second half, Norwich not even hinting at a comeback. Hernández made the outcome certain in the 67th minute by curling a low shot past Krul from the corner of the box.