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Fulham 1-2 Leeds United: 5 talking points as Bielsa finally cracks London

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Marcelo Bielsa put to bed a woeful record in London last night and, with it, all-but confirmed Leeds United would be playing Premier League football again thanks to a 2-1 win over Fulham at Craven Cottage.

Leeds got on top early on and looked to have taken the lead through Luke Ayling’s looping header, only for VAR to intervene and rule offside.

Not to let such a good start go to waste, though, Patrick Bamford fizzed Jack Harrison’s cross in for 1-0.

Scott Parker’s side would then prey on Leeds’ weakness from set-pieces, with Joachim Andersen getting the better of Ayling to equalise from a corner.

However, just before the hour, Kalvin Phillips and Bamford linked to set Raphinha racing into the penalty area, with the Brazilian finishing nicely for 2-1.

There were chances to extend the lead, but Leeds failed to capitalise and hung on to move onto 39 points for the season.

Here are our talking points from a big night in London:

A point proved well

The week leading up to the Fulham game was filled with opportunity for members of Leeds’ squad, with Ayling and Bamford both in contention for a first England call-up.

As the squad was announced for March’s international break, talk of Ayling’s call-up had faded, but Bamford appeared agonisingly close; as it was Ollie Watkins got the nod ahead of him.

A trip to Fulham came about quickly, with Ayling dusting himself down and producing a largely composed performance on the right of defence. As for Bamford, he did what he does.

Clever movement saw him win a yard in the penalty area on 29 minutes, meeting Harrison’s cross from the left with a sharp finish for his 14th goal of the season.

Bamford’s weight of pass was then perfect on 58 minutes, capitalising on Phillips’ good work to slip Raphinha into the penalty area. A swift movement to pull the ball away from the defender and a second to stab into the bottom corner: Leeds with the lead again.

On 77 minutes, Bamford had run his race and looked exhausted after a big shift in the capital.

It’s probably fair to say that the events from the week gone by have been exhausting too, but Leeds got what they wanted from Bamford at Craven Cottage.

Heartbreak for Ayling

If your last memory of Elland Road isn’t Ayling letting his hair down after rocketing Leeds into the lead against Huddersfield Town, I’d be surprised.

So, last night, after Ayling had looped Leeds into the lead with a header, it was nice to see the right-back letting his hair down and getting the air guitar out again as a return to Elland Road looms in the coming months.

To see that taken away from Ayling was gutting. It would have been his first Premier League goal and so deserved after a great first season in the Premier League with Leeds.

Tyler Roberts had marginally leaned offside in the build-up; another correct decision by the ludicrous laws of the game. We’ve said previously in these notes that it’s the interpretation of the rule that irritates us.

It’s just nice that this week it’s not overshadowing the result.

Nevertheless, it’s harsh on Ayling, whose wait for a first Premier League goal goes on.

It was, actually, a similar story for him in the Championship with Leeds, but when the goals did come, they were worth the wait, as were the celebrations.

The day when they come will be one to remember.

A Phillips masterclass

Since returning from injury at West Ham, Phillips has been practically flawless. He was Leeds’ best player at the London Stadium, put in a real shift against Chelsea and was last night’s Man of the Match.

Phillips ran the game from midfield, closing down the threat of André-Frank Zambo Anguissa in the Fulham engine room.

That particular battle was one that he came out on top in, which set Leeds up perfectly for a performance that was on the front-foot for large parts of the evening.

Raphinha’s goal came from Phillips piling the pressure on Mario Lemina in the midfield, making the decision that a risky pass was going to be his, it was and Bamford and Raphinha combined to do the rest.

Not just content with shielding the defence, Phillips was dynamic moving into the channels, breaking forwards and winning corners late on.

It was an all-round quality performance for Phillips, who was aided by Stuart Dallas in winning the midfield battle.

He’s in the England squad that Ayling and Bamford missed out on, which is thoroughly deserved after a really good couple of weeks.

The Iceman

To say Leeds dominated throughout would be a lie, with Fulham managing to build a sustained period of pressure in the first-half.

Andersen scored in that passage of play, whilst Josh Maja and Anguissa were denied by two superb saves by Meslier, who showed strong reactions to keep the home side at bay.

The Frenchman’s distribution was good, whilst he providing a cool head dominating his penalty area in the second-half; ice cool, if you will.

He’s had his moments this season, but Meslier’s first season in the Premier League has been a huge positive for Leeds and he proved his worth again last night.

Bielsa straightens the record books

There’s not much that Bielsa hasn’t done during his time as head coach of this football club, but a win in London evaded him up until last night.

LeedsAllOver’s monthly column in March focused on Leeds in London, underlining the luckless nature of their trips to the capital since Bielsa had taken charge.

When Ayling’s goal was ruled out, you wondered, but Leeds remained focused on the task at hand and goals from Bamford and Raphinha wrapped up the points.

“We’re glad it’s resolved. We hope it doesn’t last that long again,” Bielsa stated after the game. He’s a man that’s not usually flustered by records like London, and whilst he hardly makes a big deal of it, you can tell it’s nice for him to straighten the record books.

The wider picture puts Leeds onto 39 points and now, surely, planning for another year in the Premier League after pushing Fulham into further trouble.

So, double delight for Marcelo Bielsa and Leeds United.

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Leeds United Season Ticket Holder at Elland Road for 20 seasons. Currently nestled in N12, but occasionally offering views from the press box. We’ve been through it all together? You bet.