Leeds United v Fulham: The boys are back in town as the Premier League finally returns to Elland Road
Premier League football will grace Elland Road once more after a gut-wrenching 16-year hiatus as Marcelo Bielsa's men take on the Cottagers exclusively live on BT Sport this Saturday afternoon.
When Leeds United relinquished their Premier League status back in 2004, nobody could have guessed the turmoil that would engulf the club in the years to follow.
Champions League semi-finalists only three years earlier, the club found themselves mired in circumstances so dire even rival supporters could only look on with empathy; utter the phrase ‘Doing a Leeds’ to any fellow football fan and they will know exactly what you mean.
The phrase – which even has its own Wikipedia page - was coined in recognition of those brutal relegations, the agonising promotion collapses and the magnetic attraction to misfortune that characterised the years that saw the club marooned in the lower leagues.
However under Marcelo Bielsa’s stewardship, the Whites finally lifted the curse – but not, it must be said, before the Argentine mastermind experienced one final episode of ‘Doing a Leeds’ himself as his team lost three of their last four league games in his first season in charge, dropping out of the automatic promotion places and subsequently losing to Derby in the play-offs.
All that heartbreak was forgotten on July 17 this year when their place in the Premier League was confirmed, just days before the club would put the icing on the cake to secure the Championship title at a relative canter.
“If we’d have known that what it took was investing heavily in a manager rather than a central midfielder… the impact of that £3million [Bielsa’s reported salary] or whatever it was on this one person has had across everybody connected with the club and the city is absolutely difficult to quantify,” Paul Morrison, a Leeds season ticket holder of 18 years, told BT Sport.
The club finished 10 points ahead of second-placed West Brom and have arrived back in the land of the giants to a level of expectation never before seen of a newly-promoted side.
Their opening day performance against last season’s runaway champions Liverpool did little to dampen those predictions as they scored three and, were it not for a clumsy penalty in the dying minutes, would have left Anfield with a share of the points.
As it was, Mohamed Salah’s 88th minute spot-kick secured a 4-3 win for the Reds and laid bare the reality of life in the Premier League: one slip, one mistimed tackle, one lapse in concentration and you go home empty-handed.
A week on from that defeat, Bielsa’s men have the chance to get their first points on the board as they return to their beloved Elland Road awaiting the visit of Scott Parker’s Fulham, who were well beaten by Arsenal on their own Premier League homecoming last weekend.
It was a performance Bielsa and his extensive team of analysts will have relished dissecting as the west London club did little to dispel predictions of another short-lived tenure in the top division.
The Cottagers struggled to cope with Arsenal’s movement in the final third and often looked all at sea dealing with the Gunners’ crosses from the wide areas, as evidenced by Willian’s pair of assists on debut.
It bodes well for the likes of Jack Harrison – who scored a beauty against Liverpool last weekend – as well as marauding full-backs Luke Ayling and Stuart Dallas, who will be looking to exploit similar weaknesses in their visiting opponents.
The last meeting between these two sides came at Elland Road as Leeds ran out dominant 3-0 winners in June fielding an almost identical XI to that which played at Anfield.
Patrick Bamford, Ezgjan Alioski and Jack Harrison got among the goals on that day and Leeds will be for a similarly masterful showing on Saturday afternoon.
As with every season, home form will be crucial in Leeds’ chances of achieving their potential this season and under Bielsa, they have only lost eight of 46 league matches at Elland Road, scoring an astonishing 78 goals while shipping just 35.
The early signs are there that Leeds can be a force this season but now they must deliver, starting with Fulham on Saturday afternoon.
Fail to beat their fellow Premier League newcomers after taking the champions to the wire? They’re doing ‘Doing a Leeds’.
Watch Leeds United v Fulham exclusively live on BT Sport 1 HD, BT Sport Ultimate and across the BT Sport digital network from 3pm on Saturday afternoon.