Simon Rix: The pressure is off Leeds United - now let’s see what the boys can do
sixteen years of pressure weighed heavily as we waited for the post lockdown restart last season.
Yes we were the best team in the division but could Leeds continue where they left off in March?
The year before in Bielsa’s first season I never bought into the Bielsa burnout theory - but pressure, the expectation of a city as we dropped out of our automatic promotion position over Easter (and threw it all away against Derby), that pressure was palpably obvious.
We’ve seen a collapse under the weight of expectation before in Leeds’ plotted history - against Doncaster and Watford and countless other occasions. But last year, we resisted, we were resilient, and in the end we smashed it.
With an added bonus of some excellent play after the league was all tied up. We took the last two games with ease with an aggregate 7-1 scoreline, when the pressure dialed down, the numbers got even better it seemed. And so - to this season. I was more than a bit worried that the constant pressure the players had been under for the previous two seasons may take it’s toll.
We’ve had a few injuries and a few players, most noticeably Klich looking in need of a good rest.
I’m not often quite so glad to be proved wrong, but it’s been pretty much plain sailing to a safe 35 points and beyond. Given what happened last season I found myself once again curious to see if once the pressure is off, our men in white would once again step it up. Since we hit relative safety that’s three wins out of three, it’s a good sign.
Two of them were against struggling sides in Fulham and Sheffield United but Saturday against Man City seemed like a real test, and a surreal experience. Even before the red card, I think we looked like we were going to give them a game, but the second half was an outstanding display.
It seems like yesterday that a team with no real identity was trooping out at Elland Road under Paul Heckingbottom, where the best thing about the matches was the pies and the ale.
Now I think its not just the view of a longstanding Leeds fan – it’s a truth universally acknowledged that we have a handsome team in with a chance of beating anyone, a team we can like and a team we can be proud of.
The most outstanding thing for me though is the fact that every man, even a player like Llorente who only played a handful of times in the white (well in this case maroon) shirt was absolutely committed to winning that game. 10 men against the Champions elect, no-one would have thought twice about us losing that game, or even getting properly hammered, it’s what was expected.
The reward for this win wasn’t progress in the cup, survival or promotion, it was being 10th instead of 11th?
At the end of the season those three points might get us an extra place, an extra bit of prize money but fundamentally not much.
It’s about a pride. Every single player gave 100 per cent for Leeds, for Bielsa, and for their captain sitting the second half out. It would have been easy for the players on the pitch to curse their luck and accept that Manchester City would score and score again. We could all wonder what if, and move onto the next game. Bielsa’s leaky Leeds.
Naive Leeds, play one way Leeds, we can’t defend set pieces Leeds and all the other commentator tropes. But this time Bielsa parked the bus.
Hopefully this recent run will make everyone see that Bielsa chooses risk for a good reason. Just as he chooses to sit on a “bucket”, he chooses to play an attacking style. Knowing it leaves us vulnerable at times, but also yielding the best results and the best entertainment for us fans.
With 42 points now the pressure is really off. Let’s see what the boys can do.