There was an emphatic goodbye to the EFL from Leeds United yesterday as Marcelo Bielsa’s side beat Charlton Athletic 4-0 before celebrating with the Championship trophy well into the night.
Leeds have played their final two games of the season with freedom. Promotion was confirmed last Friday, the title wrapped up less than 24 hours later and then the shackles were off as Bielsa oversaw a 3-1 win over Derby County.
Last night it was Charlton being pulled to pieces by Leeds, who led at half-time through Ben White’s volley and Stuart Dallas’ low finish.
Tyler Roberts added a third after the break and Jamie Shackleton joined him on the scoresheet off the bench. Charlton were relegated by full-time as results elsewhere went against them, but this was Leeds signing off in style.
Here, we look at a couple of talking points from Elland Road…
Hernandez defies age
Since the restart, I’d task you to find a better, more influential player than Pablo Hernandez.
The 35-year-old has carried a hamstring injury with him into the restart, but that’s not stopped him finding his best form. Three goals and four assists is a top return and last night it was more vintage El Mago.
Popping up in between the lines in the opening exchanges, Hernandez was finding space and causing Lee Bowyer a real issue. His threatening cross on 13 minutes was half cleared and White crashed a volley into the top corner.
Hernandez’s standout moment came as Dallas doubled Leeds’ lead later in the half, with the Spaniard picking a pass through Josh Cullen’s legs and finding his teammate, who made no mistake poking past Dillon Phillips.
The start of the second-half saw Hernandez’s corner met by the head of Roberts for 3-0 and, like that, his work was done.
Images of Hernandez celebrating with the Championship trophy put a lump in the throat and he’s finally succeeded with that he set out to do at Elland Road back in 2016.
Performing like this in the Premier League will be tough on his 35-year-old frame, but as he’s shown, time and time again, that figure is just a number.
The brain is young and he will be at the forefront of Bielsa’s plans for the Premier League.
The kids are alright
Including the experienced Hernandez, Bielsa has stuck with a core group this season at Elland Road. Ben White has played every minute of the league campaign, Stuart Dallas has started all-but one game and various others have 35+ appearances plus a place in the history books.
Bielsa doesn’t like to carry excess baggage within his squad and that means, naturally, he leans on Leeds’ academy to boost his matchday squad. Pascal Struijk has stepped into the midfield to replace Kalvin Phillips in recent weeks, whilst Jamie Shackleton and Ian Poveda are playing key roles from the bench.
That trio combined to set up Leeds’ fourth goal last night, with Struijk – a menace all evening in the midfield – producing a diagonal ball Phillips would’ve been proud of to set Poveda free down the right.
A steady head was needed and, with Shackleton tearing up on his inside, he rolled the midfielder into a shooting position and the ball was past Phillips in a flash.
It was direct, fast and a show that Bielsa’s work in the last two years hasn’t been solely focused on his frontline troops. The Argentine’s patterns of play filter right through at Thorp Arch and when we see moments like this, it convinces you the future is bright.
Premier League ready
Leeds’ biggest obstacle in the promotion race was always going to be any self doubt they had after last season’s failure.
Ultimately, it’s been their rivals fighting amongst themselves for second and Leeds have won the title by 10 points, picked up seven wins from nine since the restart and dropped just five points.
Along the way, they’ve put three goals past Fulham and Blackburn, banged five into Jack Butland’s goal for Stoke and then walloped Charlton 4-0.
There’s a massive gulf in class between Bielsa’s side and the rest of the Championship. They finally look ready to embark on the Premier League for the first time in 16 years and they’re carrying a swagger with them that’s going to keep you on your toes.
The EFL will miss Bielsa and Leeds, but he’s overseen his side outgrow them and, if we are honest, Leeds won’t miss the EFL.
Parties across the city over the weekend and into this week have proved that. This place is Premier League ready.