Relieved Marcelo Bielsa on how Leeds United created danger against Burnley
Marcelo Bielsa was a pleased as well as relieved head coach after Leeds United managed a deserved winning return to action against Burnley at Elland Road.
The Whites boss was in no doubt that his team were good value for their 3-1 victory, which took them eight points clear of the Premier League's relegation at the half way point of the season.
A high energy performance reminiscent of previous seasons under Bielsa was rewarded with goals by Jack Harrison, Stuart Dallas and Dan James and showed that United did not have any ill effects from the covid in the camp that forced postponements of their previous two matches over the holiday period.
It was the first time in the league this season that Leeds had scored more than twice in a game and to do it in such a high pressure game clearly impressed Bielsa.
He said: "We managed a fair victory. The difference I felt was also fair.
“It was very necessary and it was a relief for us to be able to get it.
"It's very difficult to play against Burnley. They have a clear way how they want to play and they always keep the differences close.
“We managed to get in behind, there was a lot of combination play, there was a defensive security even if it wasn't absolute.
“It was important and we had the ball a lot of the time. And we managed to finish our attacks in the opponents' half.
“In general lines, we dominated the game. We created danger. They created not too much against us, but the game was very difficult to sustain.
“I thought that it was going to be difficult to dominate. We played a lot like how we wanted to play.”
The value of the three points was not lost on Bielsa, who explained: “I don't ignore the situation that we're in and I also don't ignore what my responsibilities are, that cannot influence my state of mood.
"As you know, football every week you have to show yourself again every week, prove yourself. Even if the performance was a step forward, we need to maintain that level of performance against any opponent and on any pitch."
Bielsa was pleased with the contributions of his two second half substitutes, Joe Gelhardt and Dan James.
He added: "What we were trying to do is recover the best way we know how to play and in some ways we got it. Gelhardt coming on for Tyler maintained the game how we wanted it. Down the left, James opened up paths and ended up scoring."
Leeds initially looked rusty and a little edgy as stray passes dogged their play in the first 15 minutes, but they eased their way into the contest to dominate a Burnley team who came to have a go in what they will have seen as a six-pointer.
The first shot did not come until the 17th minute when Dallas saw his effort well held by Burnley keeper Wayne Hennessey, but they went on to have 20 efforts on goal and could have the game sewn up much earlier than they did.
Raphinha showed a sign of things to come with an audacious effort from at least 50 yards out when he tried to catch Hennessey off his line and was inches away from scoring the goal of the season.
A clear chance followed two minutes later as Raphinha's low ball into the area was met by a back flick from Junior Firpo, but Hennessey got down well to save and the follow-up from Firpo was cleared from just in front of the line.
Raphinha sent a curling shot over as United's pressing game came into full effect and their opponents were struggling to play out of their own half.
Burnley finally managed their first shot on 32 minutes and it needed a smart save from Illan Meslier to deny former Whites striker Chris Wood at close range after he had got on the end of a fine low cross from another former Leeds favourite Charlie Taylor.
But it was soon back to home dominance with Tyler Roberts somehow heading wide with the goal gaping after he met a Luke Ayling cross.
The deadlock was broken on 39 minutes when Harrison blocked James Tarkowski's attempted pass then ran at the Burnley centre-half, twisting him one way then the other before firing in a left foot shot that was beaten away by Hennessey. The ball came back to Harrison and quick as a flash he fired the ball into the net with a first time right foot shot.
United went for it further before half-time with Raphinha and Dallas having shots blocked and Firpo firing over following a great run and pass by Harrison.
Roberts then won the ball and ran at the visiting defence only to see his angled shot comfortably saved.
Although largely outplayed, Burnley showed that they could still be a threat as Taylor set up Wood once again and it was a relief for the home fans when the striker sent his shot over.
The second half initially followed a similar pattern with Roberts shooting over when found in space just inside the area by Mateusz Klich following a smart break.
It was out of the blue when Burnley levelled from a free-kick harshly given against Diego Llorente after he had been fouled first. Half-time sub Maxwel Cornet placed the ball 22 yards out and beat Meslier with a well struck shot to surprisingly level the game.
Cornet's celebration in front of the home crowd was too much to take for one fan who threw a bottle onto the pitch, hitting Matthew Lowton on the head and possibly costing United in the pocket somewhere down the line.
The players' reaction was good, however, as they simply went back to dominating the game. Boosted by substitutes Gelhardt - on for the ever willing Roberts - and James - on for Harrison, who had his best game for a while - they pinned Burnley back again.
Dallas was inches away from connecting with a superb ball over the top of the visiting defence by the impressive Adam Forshaw before a great chance went begging as James' low cross just evaded Gelhardt, but was met by Raphinha who with the goal open hit the side netting with a right foot shot, not realising he probably had more time to line up his effort.
Cornet looked a threat for the visitors and almost converted a low cross to put his side ahead but, on the stretch, he was unable to control his effort.
However, Leeds finally had the second goal they had threatened when a short corner saw the ball find Dallas on the edge of the box and his controlled left foot shot sent the ball into the corner of the net to spark wild celebration scenes.
There were even bigger scenes of joy in added time as Gelhardt's fantastic cross was met by a James header and although Hennessey got a hand to the ball he could not keep it out of the net.
(Harrison 39, Dallas 77, James 90+2)
Sunday, January 2, 2022
Leeds: Meslier; Ayling, Llorente, Koch; Dallas, Forshaw, Firpo; Raphinha, Klich, Harrison (James 62); Roberts (Gelhardt 58).
Burnley: Hennessey; Lowton, Tarkowski, Mee, Taylor; McNeil, Cork, Westwood, Gudmundsson (Cornet 45); Lennon (Rodriguez 80), Wood (Vydra 84).
Referee: Paul Tierney