There was a five-star showing from Leeds United on Thursday as they put Stoke City to the sword at Elland Road, winning 5-0 to return to the top of the Championship table.
Leeds are motoring along nicely in the Championship now and despite the pressure of playing after their promotion rivals this week, they made short work of Stoke with a sublime second-half showing.
Mateusz Klich rolled Marcelo Bielsa’s side into a half-time lead with a cool penalty, with Helder Costa, Liam Cooper, Pablo Hernandez and Patrick Bamford doing the damage in the second-half.
There was a lot that Bielsa will have been pleased with and, as the four-game run-in looms, Leeds look in perfect condition to end a long wait for a Premier League return.
We begin dissecting what we saw against Stoke City…
Costa starts with a bang
It has been a steady first season at Elland Road for Helder Costa, who joined Leeds on loan from Wolves last summer with the view to making that permanent.
This week, the paperwork has been signed and Costa has agreed a four-year deal with Leeds to pull him through to 2024. To celebrate, he put in his best shift for the club yet.
Always menacing down the right, but a threat drifting in off his wing, Stoke couldn’t deal with the Portuguese international.
He drew a foul from Tommy Smith to win Leeds’ penalty on 45 minutes and at the start of the second-half, he drifted into a wonderful position to poke beyond Butland for 2-0.
— AGB (@BurnsAlfie) July 9, 2020
More willing running down the right came later in the half and Costa picked up another assist when his cutback found Hernandez on 72 minutes.
Bruno Martins Indi and James McClean couldn’t handle the 26-year-old’s movement, pace or productivity and, by full-time, the pair had given up trying to contain him.
Is this a sign of things to come on the back of a permanent contract? Leeds will hope so.
Bamford firing at just the right time
It wasn’t until the 93rd minute that Bamford finally got his name on the scoresheet, with the striker latching onto Luke Ayling’s fine diagonal ball and firing off both Jack Butland’s posts to add the icing on the cake.
However, this performance from Bamford was more than just his 16th goal of the season. A tireless shift epitomised why Bielsa loves him and why he’s had the Argentine’s faith all season.
He went toe-to-toe with Danny Batth throughout, linked play well and ran channels when Leeds needed an out ball.
Chances fell his way, but Butland denied him at his near post. Even when he beat the Stoke goalkeeper, the woodwork and James McClean were standing in his way.
A goal eventually came and it was deserved, with Bamford now on a run of form that’s seen him score three goals since the restart. The wider picture tells you it is four goals in the last six games, with Bielsa’s striker hitting a run of form at the perfect time.
Leeds answer the question the Championship is asking
Earlier in the week, Fulham kept their automatic promotion hopes alive with a 1-0 win over Nottingham Forest, Brentford moved within touching distance of the top-two with a comeback against Charlton Athletic and West Brom halted Derby County’s charge to claim back top spot.
All eyes were on Elland Road last night and questions were asked of Bielsa’s side: do they have the nerve to play after everyone else? Can they succeed where so many others in white (including themselves last season) have failed?
Three points, a clean sheet and five goals was some response to that, but perhaps most importantly, this was one of Leeds’ best performances of the season, which suggests they are in the groove at just the right time.
Of course, more questions will be asked and, for the next two games at least, Leeds will play after Brentford and West Brom.
On this showing, though, Leeds have little to worry about. If they meet these standards four more times there is no stopping them.