Newcastle showed Premier League quality in their 2-0 victory at Leeds, who were left to rue a key absentee, writes Rob Conlon.
A Class Apart
Ahead of the game, Leeds boss Garry Monk will have been quietly encouraged by the options he would be later able to call upon from the bench, namely Marcus Antonsson, Hadi Sacko and Stuart Dallas. However, a brief glimpse at Rafa Benitez’s substitutes highlighted the gulf in quality between the two teams, and goes a long way to explaining why Newcastle are threatening to run away with the league this season.
While Leeds were missing captain Liam Bridcutt and former Spain international Pablo Hernandez, Newcastle could afford to leave out the likes of Aleksandar Mitrovic, Mohamed Diame and Christian Atsu; £3million summer signing Daryl Murphy could not even make the bench.
And that quality showed, never more so than in the first half an hour. Newcastle kept the ball with a consummate ease and penned Leeds into their own half, with Jonjo Shelvey in particularly relishing the freedom of Elland Road, creating a good chance for Dwight Gayle with a nonchalant quick free-kick early on.
Meanwhile, out of possession the Magpies pressed and harried high up the pitch. Leeds’ defence and midfield were not given any time on the ball, meaning the front three of Chris Wood, Souleymane Doukara and Kemar Roofe largely spent their time backtracking or feeding off scraps. On the rare occasion the ball did come their way, they struggled to bring others into play amid a swarm of opposition shirts.
Despite Newcastle’s early dominance, Leeds held their shape well. Kyle Bartley and cult hero Pontus Jansson marshaled the defence with a calmness and composure which has been missing from Elland Road for many a year. Sadly, this didn’t quite spread to Rob Green, as the goalkeeper gifted the visitors an opener as he parried the ball straight to Gayle. Newcastle are unbeaten whenever they have scored the first goal this season. Green’s error was nothing short of criminal.
— Sky Sports EFL ⚽️ (@SkySportsEFL) November 20, 2016
Leeds did rally after the goal but Newcaslte showed why they will be playing Premier League football next season with their second goal. The incision of the passing and movement was exceptional as the former Crystal Palace forward was left with a tap in.
Newcastle will know they have been in a game, but there remains a sense that they are not quite having to go through the full range of gears in this division. A scary thought for Leeds and the rest of the Championship.
Genuinely think this Newcastle side, with this manager, would finish in the top 10-12 in the Premier League this season.
— Daniel Storey (@danielstorey85) November 20, 2016
The Life Without Pablo
As previously mentioned, Leeds did fight back after Gayle’s opener. Suddenly Newcastle were no longer allowed to dictate the tempo with such ease. Shelvey started to see less of the ball, tackles started flying in, and much more of the game was being played in the visitor’s half.
Sadly, without the aforementioned Hernandez, Leeds lacked the guile and precision to level things up. Kalvin Phillips was deployed in the number ten role, and while his delivery from set-pieces – the area where Leeds found most of their joy – was at times impressive (although there were a couple of tired attempts after the break), the 20-year-old is yet to develop the nous to unlock opposition defences.
Had, for instance, the ball been at Hernandez’s feet when the ball broke to Phillips in the first half with a rare pocket of space in front of the Magpies’ back four, it is unlikely the ball would have been given away immediately. Likewise, Doukara and Eunan O’Kane both wasted excellent opportunities to play attackers in on goal with heavy passes in the second half. Monk will be eager for his creative linchpin to return quickly.
Won’t take any negatives from today as that Newcastle side is a class above. Colback / Shelvey ran show; Hernandez was a big miss for #LUFC
— James Marshment (@marshyleeds) November 20, 2016
Speaking about his former side’s recent turnaround, ex Leeds striker Ross McCormack told Sky Sports: “All it takes is a couple of results and the momentum grows and grows and grows.”
Leeds were taught something of a lesson by Newcastle, but they won’t be the only side that happens to this season. There is no reason this loss has to stop their momentum.