This was an occasion billed as a grudge match between two famous old clubs and their respective managers. But on a night when Patrick Bamford proved a point against his former employers and Olivier Giroud scored yet again on his first Premier League start of the season, second-half goals from Kurt Zouma and Christian Pulisic were enough to take the Blues for the first time since September 2018.
It was not a vintage performance from Frank Lampard’s side in front of 2,000 vocal home supporters, although, after being frustrated by a stubborn Tottenham side last week, the manager was thrilled that his players showed resilience to battle back from behind and leapfrog their London rivals, at least until their derby today at home to Arsenal.
“I was nervous of Leeds. But to be that dominant was very pleasing,” he admitted. “It’s early December and there’s a long way to go. But we are moving in the right direction. Our job is to not get caught up in the chat. We have to keep our feet on the ground. There’s a long, long way to go.”
This is a rivalry that can trace its genesis back more than 50 years and the infamous 1970 FA Cup final, although it had been eight years since they met in any competition – a 5-1 thrashing for Leeds in the League Cup. Their previous top-flight meeting in May 2004 ended up being the last Premier League match they played until their return this season and also heralded the start of a new era at Chelsea, with Claudio Ranieri being replaced a few weeks later by a certain José Mourinho. Lampard and Marcelo Bielsa’s own enmity is much more recent, of course, and their first meeting since the Championship play-off semi-final when the former was the Derby manager also provided a fascinating subplot. The Leeds manager had insisted that the “Spygate” incident was in the past but he surely would have been delighted to see his side take the lead inside the first four minutes.
Chelsea had already gone close when Hakim Ziyech’s shot was saved by Illan Meslier and Giroud’s header from the resulting corner was inches away from creeping inside a post. But in a delightful move that began when Leeds won the ball on the edge of their box, a superb pass from the left boot of Kalvin Phillips allowed Bamford to nip in front of Zouma and apply the finish against his former club.
Robin Koch’s departure because of an injury was not ideal for the visitors, although they had Timo Werner to thank for maintaining their lead soon after. Giroud’s header from another corner looked destined for the far corner until the German mysteriously intervened and, with two touches, somehow contrived to hit the crossbar instead.
Bamford did not make a single appearance for Chelsea’s first team having joined from Nottingham Forest as a teenager and he came close to scoring his second goal after another free-flowing Leeds move, only for his shot to miss the target. Giroud has also had to wait for his opportunities in west London but underlined his cause further following his four goals at Sevilla in midweek with an immaculate header from Reece James’s cross after good work from Ziyech. That was the winger’s last act, however, as he hobbled off to be replaced by Pulisic, with Lampard later confirming he has a suspected hamstring injury.
The American looked keen to make up for lost time after returning from a hamstring injury of his own and, along with Giroud, was the most likely source of a second goal for the hosts. At the other end, Raphinha could not take his chance after Édouard Mendy had saved his initial shot as Leeds continued to pose a danger.
But having somehow kept out two efforts from Werner and seen Ezgjan Alioski block another from point-blank range to deny Mason Mount, Meslier could do nothing about Zouma’s header from Mount’s pinpoint corner.
Kai Havertz was replaced by Mateo Kovacic to a smattering of applause and an embrace from his manager, who will hope there is more to come from the £62m signing.
The impressive Mount was the architect of another swift break that saw Giroud just fail to put the game beyond their opponents’ reach. Werner also spurned a golden opportunity from Ben Chilwell’s brilliant cross that could have settled Lampard’s nerves before Giroud headed over again from a corner.
The substitute Ian Poveda-Ocampo could have been awarded a late penalty for Leeds but opted to stay on his feet after seeming to be fouled by Chilwell. “I didn’t see the attack with clarity so it’s hard to comment,” said Bielsa.
Leeds paid the price when Pulisic tapped home from close range in injury time to extend Chelsea’s unbeaten run to 16 matches. “We are top of the league,” sang the Chelsea fans. But for how long?