Jon Howe: Chaos Theory

Jon Howe: Chaos Theory

Weekly column.

In his latest column for, lifelong supporter Jon Howe speaks about last weekend's brilliant win over Chelsea. 

Howe is the author of two books on the club, ‘The Only Place For Us: An A-Z History of Elland Road’ - which has been updated as a new version for 2021 - and ‘All White: Leeds United’s 100 Greatest Players’ in 2012.

Jon Howe
If you Googled the words “Thomas Tuchel chaos Leeds United” last Friday, you would have been directed to a raft of national media stories detailing how Chelsea’s head coach described Leeds United as a “team who loves the chaos”. It would be one of the last things Thomas Tuchel got right last weekend. Search for the same words on Monday morning and you would more likely find a procession of media hacks deriding him for his comments on the “travel chaos” that led to his coaching staff journeying to Leeds by bus; an acute state of adversity which didn’t actually affect his players one little bit. But then chaos did play a big part in Leeds United’s success last Sunday.

The 3-0 victory over Chelsea was something of an awakening for Leeds United, and a comprehensive one across the whole spectrum of the club. It will open the eyes of the players – both old and new - to what this team can achieve. It was a moment of realisation for Jesse Marsch, to see his methods accepted and deployed so completely. It was deliverance for the board to see that fans could finally draw a line under the past regime and see tangible proof that good things were still possible. And for the fans themselves? This was what we had waited all those years for, and was arguably – in terms of completely battering a team of high quality – the greatest occasion a full Elland Road has witnessed since the Champions League destruction of Deportivo La Coruna.   

And it was all built on chaos; both on and off the pitch. We had seen chaos of a different sort towards the end of last season in Jesse Marsch’s first 12 games in charge. This was chaos in the form of last minute goals and the slapstick farce that was Wolves away, chaos with the incoherent tactics as the team struggled to traverse from one style of management to another, and chaos with the sheer jubilant frenzy of survival at Brentford, and the fans somehow adopting a random Status Quo track as a new anthem. Not a lot made sense and it was probably best not to over-analyse it and just accept the end result for what it was.

This season so far has seen a different kind of chaos; the right kind of chaos, a chaos that is controlled in terms of a determined press and an intense shackling of the opposition which creates a white heat, a confusion and a momentary loss of awareness. Think Tyler Adams, Brenden Aaronson and Jack Harrison snapping away, and then Mateusz Klich rising from the bench with a knowing smirk when the opposition think they’ve survived the worst of it.

That is definitely what affected Chelsea last Sunday in the powder keg atmosphere of Elland Road. Not given time to think, settle or perform, Chelsea were flustered to the point of an emotional breakdown, particularly in the case of Edouard Mendy. Loose passes, poor finishing and physical exhaustion contributed to a horribly disjointed performance from Chelsea; slaves to the chaos, slaves to Leeds United. And amid the chaos, Leeds United could still play too.

Of course there is an art to co-ordinating chaos, and finally we can see the fruits of the hours spent together as a unit at Thorp Arch over the summer, and in Australia. If the Wolves game on opening day offered a taste of it, the Chelsea win delivered it with extra sauce and a free portion of chips. And the chaos off the pitch was dialled up to eleven also.

It is a commonly held opinion that the Elland Road atmosphere has been off the scale ever since crowds were allowed to return to football post-pandemic. Even if this coincided with Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United running out of steam, there was a huge pressure release which produced a frenzy of elation when things were good, mixed in with a more sanguine sense of gratitude, patience and forgiveness when they weren’t. The Chelsea game, however, was something else. There is no possible way to describe how all-consuming Elland Road is on days like that; when life couldn’t be more perfect, when the collective whole is so powerful it could launch you over the sun and when it feels like you could walk on air for days.

Amid that was the chaos of the goals, and the volcanic land shift that occurs when you can’t quite believe what is happening in front of you. Losing yourself in the moment is all part of the chaos, when you can’t celebrate enough and when you come round from the breathless turmoil, gather yourself, embrace your friends, embrace strangers and take in your surroundings; 36,000 people all in one place, all energised by the same thing as you and all feeling it the same way you do. It’s magical and it doesn’t ‘quite’ happen like that very often. Last Sunday brought the chaos and it was something nobody who was there will ever forget.

The last time Barnsley visited Elland Road before this week’s Carabao Cup tie was in our penultimate home game of the promotion season. On that occasion an empty Elland Road was unable to shake the players out of a strange mental block; where everything they had been taught and had practiced throughout a near faultless campaign had been momentarily forgotten. Leeds were terrible in the 1-0 win which virtually sealed our promotion, and as fans, all we could do was watch the unfolding chaos through our fingers from afar, in a deeply uncomfortable 90 minutes whichever sofa you were sitting on.

Wednesday night’s cup tie saw only a ten-minute period of chaos, when a much-changed Leeds side conceded a cheap back post header, then survived a missed penalty which would have chalked off a 2-0 lead. This was the wrong kind of chaos, and although we went on to comfortably win 3-1, perhaps we are saving the right kind of chaos for the Premier League. If that’s the case, it’s about time we served some up for Brighton.

It was widely accepted that Marcelo Bielsa never quite got to grips with Graham Potter’s Brighton, and in the three games in which he faced them, Leeds didn’t score and never found any sort of rhythm or pattern. It was a similar story in the final home game of last season, although Leeds gradually found some fight and some Joffy magic and salvaged a point with a late Pascal Struijk header. If that was a turning of the tide in terms of this fixture then Jesse Marsch will take it, and perhaps at the Amex Stadium this Saturday Leeds will be better placed to unleash some chaos, and disrupt Brighton’s rhythm and pattern on their own terms for a change.

We are fair and reasonable sorts at Leeds United, honest, and we would concede that Thomas Tuchel was right about Jesse Marsch’s team loving the chaos. We have seen chaos of many different sorts over the years at Leeds United, but this is one form we can certainly embrace. And if there was one football club the opposition wouldn’t want to channel chaos positively it would be Leeds United. Because chaos can be dangerous in the right hands.