Leeds United’s soft reboot under manager Jesse Marsch got off to a winning start as Rayan Ait-Nouri’s own goal gave them a comeback victory over Wolves in a lively game at Elland Road.
It has been a summer of change for the Whites, leading to Marsch fielding four debutants on Saturday as part of a remodelled side looking to produce the effective pressing and direct play the American favours.
They were dealt an early blow when Daniel Podence’s bouncing effort found its way over goalkeeper Illan Meslier to give Wolves a sixth-minute lead.
But the home side rallied and after seeing what they felt was a clear penalty for a foul on Rasmus Kristensen by Wolves keeper Jose Sa, they levelled.
Spanish forward Rodrigo has struggled to live up to his £30m tag at a time during his two years in Leeds but his low, angled drive midway through a first half was a fine strike and it lifted the home crowd just when it was required.
Despite a depleted attack lacking the injured Raul Jimenez, Wolves came out swinging in the second half and set home nerves jangling by threatening a winner of their own.
But instead, Leeds struck, with Ait-Nouri poking Patrick Bamford’s superb low cross into his own net from close range under pressure from excellent debutant Brenden Aaronson.
Having helped rescue Leeds from relegation last season over 12 high-pressure games in which performances were secondary to points, Marsch is now under the managerial microscope.
The dozen matches he oversaw to conclude 2021-22, culminating in a dramatic last-game escape at Brentford, veered from bland to ridiculous, often within a single game. Little could be ascertained about Marsch’s style or vision amid the madness.
Having had a summer to revamp the squad and start to mould them to his taste, he must now be a man with a visible plan – and there was certainly signs of that inside a lively and expectant Elland Road.
It wasn’t perfect and at times threatened to topple over as Wolves came on strong after the break, but there was enough there for Leeds to believe they can avoid the trauma of last season’s relegation fight.
Tyler Adams and Marc Roca kept it largely simple in the midfield berth left by Kalvin Phillips, Rasmus Kristensen provided all-action width from full-back and Patrick Bamford returned to give glimpses of why he was on the fringe of the England squad before injury struck last season.
The standout performer was Aaronson, though, who was a constant source of energy and endeavour during his time on the pitch.
He lacks the outright flair of Raphinha – the man he was brought in to help replace – but in his own industrious way could prove as effective.
As Marsch pointed out before the game, the team may have lost two stars, but in general is stronger.
It was far from a perfect opening display, with chances going begging at one end – Bamford should have made the conclusion more comfortable with a header Jose Sa clawed away – and a prolonged period at the start of the second half when they couldn’t get a foot on the ball.
But it is a positive start and something upon which Marsch and his new-look team can build.
Wolves suffer for lack of ruthless forward
In contrast to Leeds, Wolves have had a quiet summer in the transfer market, with defender Nathan Collins the only recruit to date.
The former Burnley centre-back had a decent debut in a back four that resulted in Conor Coady spending the game on the bench, but greater attention will be paid to events at the other end of the pitch.
Alarm bells are ringing within Wanderers’ fanbase who saw their tally of 38 goals last season – the lowest of any side to stay up – as a pressing reason to invest in more firepower, and will now be more motivated to demand it.
An untimely injury to main striker Jimenez – their top-scorer in the 2021-22 Premier League with six goals – has exacerbated the problem, and it was clear again on Saturday that while their front three are a threat, they lack ruthlessness and composure.
Even Podence’s opener had an air of fortune to it, with the forward hitting Morgan Gibbs-White’s nod down into the ground before it looped over Meslier.
And they should have scored more. The Leeds keeper produced some fine saves, but Hwang Hee-chan and Leander Dendoncker should have done better with close-range efforts, and the team could have fashioned much more from their second-half period of dominance.
All eyes will now be on Jimenez’s fitness and the remainder of the transfer window when extra firepower will be high on the agenda.
source – BBC