Leeds United’s Brazilian star Raphinha hailed for slam-dunk success

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A NIGHT that started out with commemoration of an Argentinian ended in acclamation for a Brazilian from just over the border in Rio Grande do Sul.

EOn target: 
United's Raphinha scores the winning goal.
Pictures: Jonathan Gawthorpe
EOn target: United’s Raphinha scores the winning goal. Pictures: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Raphinha’s introduction as a Leeds United player had been a comparatively gentle and sedate one by virtue of three substitute appearances.

Among his many qualities, Marcelo Bielsa has a knack of knowing when players are truly ready and Raphinha – a son of Porto Alegre like Brazil legend Ronaldinho – married a insatiable work-rate with express pace and prodigious talent on his second start, which was explosive.

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In a tangle: Everton’s Richarlison attempts to get away from United’s Luke Ayling.

Like Ronaldinho, he proved handy at producing a game-changing contribution with a rapier of a strike – low, pinpoint and deadly following a polished build-up – crowning a dazzling, joyful display 11 minutes from time.

The late, great Diego Maradona, whose life was remembered beforehand with a minute’s applause, would have approved.

This was another occasion when Leeds were at their beguiling best and won more friends.

After painting delightful pictures across Stanley Park on the opening day, Leeds again made a statement in one of the world’s most important footballing cities.

Winner: United’s Raphinha celebrates his goal.

The delicious hope is that they will make two more against their biggest rivals in London and Manchester in their next two away outings.

As is their wont, Leeds lacked a touch of ruthlessness to compliment their stylish football in terms of goals output and big chances converted.

But this was not a night for the ‘glass is half empty’ brigade. Leeds produced a total of 23 shots and boasted 58 per cent possession and brought a surfeit of gifts to the table.

It was also an evening when Illan Meslier registered his fourth successive clean sheet of the season – the joint highest in the Premier League by the close of play on Saturday. This in a team that reputedly struggle to defend.

Both Meslier and Jordan Pickford excelled, but Leeds thoroughly merited this win. A football man to the core, Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti acknowledged this afterwards. “They are a really, really good team,” he simply said.

Leeds players are thoroughly enjoying the ride as well.

Luke Ayling commented: “We have been working with (Bielsa) for the last two years. It is the third year of his reign now. I think we have a reputation of being a fit team, but I thought our football was excellent.

“We broke them down a few times and I think we could have scored a few more. To hold two good teams (Arsenal and Everton)to zero is also good for us.

“I know quite a lot of people say it, but it is a dream for us to be playing at this level. We were in League One and in the Championship for many years, so to be in the Premier League is what we dreamt of as kids. I hope we can keep playing good football and keep this going.”

This was a game when Leeds would not go away from the first minutes to the last, exemplified by the fact that Gjanni Alioski and substitute Helder Costa both spurned golden opportunities to add to their lead at the death.

At a time when Everton should have been throwing the kitchen sink at Leeds in their quest to get back on terms, the action was at the other end and told a story.

The Blues, who suffered back-to-back home defeats for the first time under Ancelotti, had chances in an incredibly open spectacle that somehow failed to yield a breakthrough before it did.

But, make no mistake, this was a game dictated by Leeds. A basketball ‘you-attack-we-attack’ game in which they eventfully came up with a slam-dunk.

The game-stars were in Leeds jerseys. From Raphinha on the flanks to Kalvin Phillips, who delivered a masterful performance in front of the watching Gareth Southgate. Some of his crossfield passing was a joy to behold.

Everton’s midfield had no control and their defence looked suspect. Their chances chiefly came from set-pieces and their best one in open play arrived very early, with Meslier thwarting Abdoulaye Doucoure with a significant save after Leeds were opened up.

After hinting at danger, James Rodriguez – who produced one sublime piece of close control which ended in a first-half ‘goal’ ruled out for offside and a chip which almost punished a Meslier error – would fade as a force.

This was a night for Raphinha – if not necessarily for Jack Harrison and Patrick Bamford.

Both were off beam with Harrison, who spurned a glorious early chance and saw a shot cleared off the line by Ben Godfrey and headed against the post, passing up the chance to lay claim to the match-ball in the first half.

Raphinha, who saw a header superbly saved by Pickford in the first period, would not be denied.

Earlier in the week, a mural of five Everton legends was unveiled in Liverpool, alongside Alan Ball’s famous quote of “Once Everton has touched you, nothing else is the same.”

Since Bielsa has arrived in Leeds, nothing else has quite been the same.

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