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Everton at Leeds: The Opposition View | Benitez & Bielsa Battle

While the Toffees comeback against Southampton was invigorating, Leeds United will likely be a tougher test

Leeds United v Everton - Premier League
Andre Gomes of Everton is helped to his feet by Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa
Photo by Paul Greenwood - CameraSport via Getty Images

Everton will look to build on the comeback victory against Southampton to open the season at Goodison Park last Saturday, but will be going to visit Elland Road and Leeds United this coming Saturday.

The Toffees are looking to collect another three points but their hosts will be coming off of an opening day beat down against Manchester United and looking to get back on track. The two sides split their meetings last season, with each club winning away by a one-goal margin.

Ahead of Saturday’s game, we spoke to Ciaran, editor for SB Nation’s dedicated Leeds site, Through It All Together:

RBM: With the new campaign just beginning, what is a realistic aim for Leeds under Marcelo Bielsa this season?

The aim is always to improve - but it’s difficult to say overall considering that we still need one or two players. Teams have known roughly what to expect from Bielsa’s Leeds for years - the important thing is replicating the form we showed at the end of the 20/21 campaign - rock solid defensively first and foremost. There’s still a lot of work to be done so we’d say mid-table again would be pretty good.

RBM: Will the defensive performance against Manchester United prove to be little more than an aberration, or a real, consistent problem for Leeds?

That depends on the fitness of our key defensive players. Kalvin Phillips was a huge miss as always when he doesn’t play - but Marcos Llorente as well. Him and Pascal Struijk were brilliant together and they’d probably be our pick for CB pairing. Llorente and Liam Cooper also paired nicely so he’s going to be a big miss again on Saturday. Only time will tell if we can recover that solidity from the end of last season.

RBM: Leeds brought in three names this summer transfer window; what is your take on business thus far? How do you think they will impact the club this season and what other purchases are you expecting?

Junior Firpo is an interesting one - he’s got the athleticism and attacking ability, but we’re still yet to get a real glimpse into his defensive skills so we’ll have to see. He has the potential to fit really well though.
Jack Harrison was brilliant last season, and if he can keep that going that’d be huge for us. Young goalie Kristoffer Klaesson looked a little shaky for the Under-23s on his debut, but he did save a penalty so early days on that one. A bunch of young signings as well which is also great - especially Lewis Bate, he’s an exciting CM. But we still need another CM and probably a winger. We’ve been covering Lewis O’Brien (Huddersfield) talk for a while but who knows at this point. Noa Lang (Brugge) would be most fans’ pick for a winger. Overall the business this summer looks solid at this stage.

RBM: What do Leeds United have to do as a unit, week in and out, to really put themselves on the map as a team that should be considered dangerous?

Find that defensive solidity and consistency from the end of last season again. Strengthen the options on the bench - we need more options than Helder Costa if we’re struggling in a game. There are a few youngsters who could provide a spark if needed. After that, it’s about scoring goals which we’re perfectly capable of with the players we have, it’s just about being able to adapt to how teams set-up against us.

Leeds United v Everton - Premier League
Patrick Bamford being closed down by Yerry Mina and Ben Godfrey
Photo by Jon Super - Pool/Getty Images

RBM: Patrick Bamford was really impressive last season as a goal scorer; who do you think will step up this year to provide him with help and the team with more consistency in this regard?

Someone’s going to have to provide that - and it kind of needs to be Rodrigo. Club record signing, 30-years old and brought in to score goals and provide danger. Not easy to do from midfield but he’s got a lot in his locker - just look at his run of goals/assists at the end of last season.

RBM: How do you expect Leeds to set up on Saturday and who do you think could cause Everton the most problems?

It always depends on the opposition’s formation. If Benitez goes 4-4-2, we’ll most likely be 3-4-3, but could experiment with something that looks like a 3-5-2. The principle is that Bielsa’s CBs outnumber the opposition strikers, but it could create a real man-marking battle in midfield - Phillips is really needed for that if we’re to win that battle. This could be a game for Firpo to start and flourish too if we do go with a back three. Raphinha is obviously the most dangerous player we have, so you can expect him to work as hard as he can to try and make something happen (fingers crossed!).

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

Personally, I’m awful at predictions - but I’m worried that Benitez might have our number considering his style. Considering the styles of the two teams - I’d say whoever wins it will probably be a 1-0.

Our thanks to Ciaran for his time.