Marcelo Bielsa spoke at length in his post-match press conference about the possibility of Eddie Nketiah and Patrick Bamford leading the line together for Leeds United, after the former had fired the Whites to a 1-0 victory over Brentford.
Leeds were made to work hard for their win, with Brentford going toe-to-toe with their pressing game in the first-half, but eventually tiring in the second, as the pace of Nketiah and Helder Costa added another dimension to the side.
Last year, we might’ve seen Nketiah replace Bamford when he was eventually given the nod, but Bielsa opted to pair them last night, with that bravery rewarded in the 81st minute.
“It depends on the needs of the game,” Bielsa said in the aftermath of the win. “According to the opponent and what they are doing, we may go with two strikers.”
Sometimes, Bamford needs that help in attack. He didn’t at Wigan last Saturday, when his brace pushed Leeds towards a 2-0 victory, but the week earlier he could’ve done with it when Nketiah was deemed not ready for the bench against Nottingham Forest.
That afternoon, Bamford missed two clear-cut chances in the second-half. An awkward shot hit the crossbar before a lobbed effort fell the wrong side of the post. In the end, honours were even at Elland Road, with Forest holding Leeds to a 1-1 draw.
And, last night threatened to bring a similar outcome. After Bryan Mbeumo had rattled Kiko Casilla’s post midway through the first-half, Bamford and Leeds were sparked into life.
The 25-year-old directed a cross from the left over David Raya’s bar, before heading narrowly wide of the goalkeeper’s post.
One of those two chances should’ve led to a goal for Bamford, and despite Leeds turning the screw as the second-half began, clear-cut chances evaded Bielsa’s side.
Pontus Jansson – who impressed on his return to Elland Road – marshalled his defensive line well, with Brentford clearing the succession of corners that Leeds would force.
Bielsa turned to his bench to look for a solution, and the 64-year-old opted for pace.
For so long, Leeds have lacked pace in their side, with the last player to really cause defenders problems with his speed probably Jermaine Beckford, who was fittingly at Elland Road to watch Nketiah’s home debut.
Helder Costa was introduced just before Nketiah, with Gaetano Berardi also replacing Stuart Dallas. That forced a reshuffle, which saw Bamford partnered by Nketiah.
And, Bielsa’s bravery in chasing the win was rewarded in the 81st minute.
Mateusz Klich – whose shot earlier in the second-half should’ve probably brought a penalty for handball – set Costa free down the right, with the former Wolverhampton favourite gliding past Ethan Pinnock.
With ice in his veins, Costa slid the ball across Raya’s goal to find Nketiah and send Elland Road wild.
There was nothing special about the 20-year-old’s goal, he was just in the right place, at the right time, to finish a blistering counter.
However, it was his introduction that lifted the decibels at Elland Road, which in part will have been helped by Bielsa’s decision to go at Brentford’s resilient defence with two strikers.
11 days earlier, Leeds had trudged to a draw with Nottingham Forest. Nketiah had been introduced to the crowd that day and there was a feeling that Bielsa would need him on nights like this, when it wasn’t quite happening for Bamford.
Towards the back end of last season, that win might’ve slipped through Leeds’ fingers as their promotion dream crumbled, and the fear in wake of that Forest draw was that Bielsa’s side were still toothless on occasion.
But, in Bamford and Nketiah, he has options. They offer skill and pace, and when they were on the field together, Brentford’s defence didn’t look as solid as it had for the best part of 80 minutes.
“They mix well – one is right-footed and the other left,” Bielsa enthused post-match.
Bielsa tried to shoehorn Bamford into the same side as Kemar Roofe on occasion last season, but the way he spoke at length about Nketiah stepping in alongside his No.9 was an indication that the Championship might be forced to deal with that duo a lot more often.
FULL-TIME: Leeds United 1-0 Brentford.