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Everton vs Leeds: The Opposition View

We spoke to Leeds fan and writer Alfie Douglass prior to Saturday’s clash at Goodison Park

Soccer - Capital One Cup - Third Round - Leeds United v Everton - Elland Road
Everton and Leeds’ last competitive meeting was in the EFL Cup in September 2012
Photo by Anna Gowthorpe/PA Images via Getty Images

Everton will look to build on the momentum picked up in last week’s win at Fulham when they host Leeds United at Goodison Park on Saturday evening.

The Blues go into this week’s round of fixtures sixth in the table after that victory at Craven Cottage - their first league win in five - and welcome Leeds to Goodison for the first time since 2003.

That was in Leeds’ previous Premier League season, having only earned promotion back to the top-flight last season under Marcelo Bielsa.

After nine games they sit 14th, but have taken just one point from their last three games, in a goalless home draw with Arsenal last time out.

Ahead of Saturday’s game, we spoke to Alfie Douglass, writer for Leeds site Right In The Gary Kellys:

RBM: Firstly, roughly one-quarter of the way through their first season back in the top-flight, what have you made of the way Leeds have started?

Alfie: I’ve been really pleased with our start, all things considered. We’ve performed well against the ‘big’ teams we’ve faced so far such as Manchester City and Liverpool, albeit only picked up one point from the two.

I feel we have been unfortunate in some games such as Arsenal and Wolves where we dominated but just couldn’t find the back of the net, and in others against Leicester and Crystal Palace we were simply not good enough.

But it’s a positive start and we’ve got a solid base to build on going into the Christmas period.

Aston Villa v Leeds United - Premier League
Leeds made a strong start to Premier League life but have tailed off in recent weeks
Photo by Nick Potts - Pool/Getty Images

RBM: Leeds were third after their most recent win this season, but have since picked up one point from a possible nine. Would just staying up signal a successful campaign, or should they be aiming higher?

Alfie: No matter what any Leeds fan says, the most important thing this season is about consolidating and staying in the division.

It’s imperative we do that and anything more is a bonus, although I believe Bielsa and the board will have hope that we can achieve more than just finishing above the bottom three with the money we’ve spent and names we’ve brought in.

RBM: Leeds fans are understandably enamoured with Marcelo Bielsa, having finally led them back to the Premier League last term. Where has he succeeded where his predecessors failed?

Alfie: He’s managed to change the identity of the club, and galvanise a city. In the past I feel managers haven’t truly been up to the task of getting us back up as the pressure is so much.

Bielsa has obviously dealt with pressure, he was the manager of the Argentina national team and also of Chile too where the fate of a nation is dependent on you and your team. However, props must be given also to Andrea Radrizzani, as past owners hardly showed ambition to get us back up and instead it felt like they’d rather bleed the club dry than actually invest. He and Victor Orta got their man and the rest is history!

Leeds United v Arsenal - Premier League
Bielsa has transformed Leeds
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

RBM: Despite their decent start, Leeds have shipped 17 league goals this season; only two sides have conceded more. What has made them so open at times?

Alfie: Since Bielsa has been in the Leeds job we’ve kept the most clean sheets of any English side, so these comments that we can’t defend are rather wide of the mark.

The only thing that’s been hampering our defensive efforts has simply been a lack of a consistent back four. Our captain Liam Cooper has been injured for the majority of our games so far, and so has our big signing Diego Llorente. We’ve seen our new signing Robin Koch partner the young lad Pascal Struijk at centre half when he’s predominantly a defensive midfielder and this hasn’t helped.

Kalvin Phillips, our key defensive midfielder, has also been injured and his return against Arsenal was much needed. So I think being unlucky with injuries in key areas is the main reason for our defensive frailties so far, but I’m sure we’ll improve as the season progresses.

RBM: Given their recent defensive struggles, how much encouragement did you take from the clean sheet against Arsenal last weekend, then?

Alfie: I think it was important to get a clean sheet as you need to be solid defensively in the Premier League if you are to have any chance of competing.

Obviously the red card [for Nicolas Pepe] helped, but even before then, I felt we dealt with Arsenal’s attacking threat quite comprehensively and with the return of Phillips there’s a more solid feel about the defensive unit.

Leeds United v Arsenal - Premier League
Leeds and Arsenal drew 0-0 at Elland Road last Sunday
Photo by Paul Ellis - Pool/Getty Images

RBM: Patrick Bamford has seven goals already this season, having previously struggled in the Premier League in his various loan spells. How has Bielsa got the best out of him?

Alfie: Bielsa has managed to get the best out of Bamford by simply believing in him. In the past, I don’t think managers have fully trusted him or have played him out of position. He was out on loan quite a lot from Chelsea so it’s hard to really build proper relationships and win the trust of your manager.

But Bielsa is fiercely loyal and even when our fans have criticised Bamford, he has stuck by him and he’s reaping the rewards. I couldn’t be happier for him as he’s pivotal to the way we play and without him we look a shadow of the team we are.

RBM: How do you expect Leeds to set up on Saturday?

Alfie: Leeds will set up as they usually do; there will be no special treatment for Everton or any of their star players such as James Rodriguez.

We’ll go man-to-man across the pitch and, depending on if Everton play one or two strikers, we’ll either go four or three at the back.

It’s going to be an open game with two teams who play football with a clear identity. Carlo Ancelotti is a top manager and he’s got the Toffees playing some great stuff so I’m really looking forward to seeing how we fare.

Everton v Leeds
Leeds’ last trip to Goodison ended in a 4-0 defeat
Photo by Martin Rickett - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

RBM: Who do you think could cause Everton the most problems?

Alfie: They both may not start, but either Rodrigo or Raphinha. Our two new signings, are both biding their time as Bielsa beds them in slowly, but you can already tell they are classy customers and offer something different to what we already have.

Rodrigo has scored big goals in big games for Valencia and Raphinha was excellent for Rennes as they got Champions League football last season, so these two are the players Everton should be wary of.

RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Saturday’s game?

Alfie: I’m going to be optimistic and say a 2-1 victory for Leeds.

But in reality, it could go either way as Everton have started the season off superbly and Dominic Calvert-Lewin is bagging for fun like Bamford. It should be a great game nonetheless and I’m sure the best team will win (or we’ll draw!).

Our thanks to Alfie for his time.