Leeds United demonstrated all of their attacking flair as they embarrassed West Brom and left Sam Allardyce still searching for his first win as Albion manager.
Marcelo Bielsa’s side scored four goals in a rampant first-half display, leaving Allardyce looking glum before compounding his misery with a fifth after the break.
After a tight start, Leeds were gifted the opening goal when Albion’s Romaine Sawyers bizarrely passed into his own net from 25 yards.
From that point Leeds utterly dominated. Ezgjan Alioski’s crisp drive and Jack Harrison’s thumping close-range finish left Albion trailing 3-0, while worryingly devoid of ideas and confidence.
Rodrigo’s deflected shot put Leeds 4-0 ahead before half-time – but there was no let up for Albion after the break.
Another swift attack ended in Brazilian winger Raphinha cutting inside from the right and curling beautifully into the top corner for the fifth.
Leeds, who were promoted back to the top flight in July after a 16-year absence, move up to 11th place with 23 points from their opening 16 games.
After coming up alongside Leeds, Albion remain second bottom and are five points adrift of safety.
Two of the most recognisable managers in English football came head to head for the first time, with the contrasting styles of Allardyce and Bielsa promising to offer an intriguing clash at the Hawthorns.
In truth, it proved a mismatch as Allardyce’s pragmatic approach was destroyed by Bielsa’s attacking philosophy in a one-sided first half.
Opinion on Bielsa’s methods appeared to be polarised in the reaction to his team’s 6-2 defeat at Manchester United before Christmas, yet performances of this calibre fully justify why the Argentine will not alter his tactics – whoever the opposition.
And why would he? It is a style which has transformed Leeds from an average Championship team into a swashbuckling side which is catching the eye in the Premier League.
True, there might be the odd blip along the way – there were also heavy defeats against Leicester and Crystal Palace – but very few Leeds fans would want to see anything different.
Against Albion, they produced a masterclass of Bielsa’s philosophy. Leeds held 75% possession, made 750 passes to Albion’s 238 and had 14 shots compared to just four from their hosts.
United have now scored 30 goals in the Premier League this season, meaning the only newly-promoted team in the competition’s history to have netted more after their first 16 games of a season was Newcastle in 1993-94 (31).
Not only are they impressing in an attacking sense though. While they have conceded 30 goals courtesy of those heavy defeats, they have also kept six clean sheets.
Defensively they were rarely troubled by Albion, who mustered their only shot on target in the second half.
By that time the game was long gone after Leeds’ incisiveness was matched by top-quality finishing.
While nobody can argue Leeds did not deserve to win by such a scoreline, Albion will rue the bizarre own goal from Sawyers which swung the match in the visitors’ favour.
Under no pressure after the home side had won back possession in their own half, Sawyers attempted to play the ball back to Sam Johnstone without looking. However, the Albion keeper was out of position as he had moved out left to try and give an easy option to Sawyers.
Allardyce could scarcely believe what he had seen, slumping back into his dugout seat with his arms folded as he saw his gameplan ripped up inside 10 minutes.
“The own goal is a mistake, Romaine thought the keeper was there but he should have looked,” Allardyce said.
“It was the last thing we wanted. Before I came we were riddled with conceding early goals and this time we gave them a Christmas present.”
Following another heavy home defeat against Aston Villa in his first game after replacing Slaven Bilic, former England manager Allardyce was given much more encouragement by his side’s 1-1 draw at champions Liverpool on Sunday.
Yet the same resilience and fight was missing.
Allardyce had named the same starting XI which played at Anfield, explaining he wanted to build consistency and reward the players who fought hard to earn that point.
Yet it appeared to backfire as they looked sluggish and unable to cope with the energy of a vibrant Leeds side – who themselves were unchanged from Sunday’s gritty win against Burnley.
After Sawyers’ error, Leeds sensed Albion’s deflation and seized their opportunity to wrap up victory before half-time. Positives were few and far between for the home side, although they did manage to limit Leeds to just one more goal after the break.
“I was shocked to see such a poor performance and we have to work hard to put it right,” said Allardyce.
“Consistency is everything for us. We can’t seem to get a consistency of attacking and defending right.
“When we lost the ball and tried to defend we were terrible, we have got to get that balance right in the transition. Life will get difficult if we cant get results quickly.”
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