The final word from Swansea City v Leeds United
Marcelo Bielsa's Leeds United played out a 2-2 draw with Swansea City on Tuesday night - but what were the key talking points? Phil Hay has the final word.
Bielsa bold, but sticking with plan A
Marcelo Bielsa does not preach the merits of having a plan B. His way of adapting boils down to making plan A work better, as he did last night with uncompromising substitutions.
Swansea City away marked Kalvin Phillips’ 100th appearance for Leeds United, a sweet moment for a player who cut his teeth in the club’s academy, but Bielsa was unsentimental in ending his night after 28 minutes. Bersant Celina - a snip of a signing at Â£3m on yesterday’s evidence - was giving Phillips grief and had already sucked him into a booking. With the game tilted so heavily in Swansea’s favour, Bielsa could see a red card coming.
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Gjanni Alioski’s withdrawal at half-time was much more predictable. Bielsa had spoken after Saturday’s win over Rotherham United about the poor quality of service from the left and Alioski spent 45 minutes at Swansea trying, unsuccessfully, to work out the offside trap. Phillips is probably due a reprieve at Norwich City this weekend but Alioski’s place looks prone.
The changes were effective, at least in watering down Swansea’s dominance. Alioski’s replacement, Jack Harrison, will rue his decision to try and work a late chance onto his left foot rather than smash it with his right but in amongst some mixed decision-making, there was far more energy with him on the field. And Bielsa’s third substitution, Patrick Bamford for Kemar Roofe, was the call which forced a draw.
What was striking about all three decisions was Bielsa’s absolute refusal to step away from his 4-1-4-1 formation. Other coaches, with 25 minutes to go and Swansea leading 2-1, would have hedged their bets by pairing Bamford and Roofe up front but as Bielsa has said, if he can’t trust his tactics then how can his players? United’s fourth league game was not a good time to waver. And Bielsa didn’t.
An opening for Bamford?
Roofe got his fourth goal of the season at the Liberty Stadium - a poacher’s finish set up by a driving run from Jamie Shackleton down the right - but he was detached from the rest of Bielsa’s line-up for most of his hour on the pitch. The forward has run hard in the first fortnight of the season and whether through a touch of fatigue or Swansea’s strength in midfield, where Leroy Fer provided some teeth, he gave the home defence little to do.
Bamford has been on the bench for four league games running now, waiting to show what a Â£7m striker can do, but there was a stroke of class about his hand in Leeds’ second goal: anticipating the run of Mike van der Hoorn, turning him in a flash on the left touchline and finding Pablo Hernandez with a pass which was asking to be hit. If Bielsa is minded to make changes at Norwich - and the demands of this week suggest that he will - Bamford is probably the player who has pushed himself furthest forward.
The centre-back question
Pontus Jansson’s back injury does not sound serious and Leeds are yet to fully diagnose the hamstring strain which forced Liam Cooper to pulled out of last night’s game after the warm-up so it might be that Bielsa’s defensive resources are not as stretched as they look. But he was genuinely nonplussed by the suggestion that circumstances would make the signing of another centre-back a good idea. Leeds have just over a week until the deadline for loan deals passes but Bielsa has been satisfied with his resources in that position throughout the summer and he reiterated his confidence in Luke Ayling, Gaetano Berardi and Conor Shaughnessy, the young Irishman who was on the bench at Swansea. On the outside it appears that Leeds are stretched at the back. But not in the eyes of the man whose opinion counts.