"I don't think Alioski or Baker were bad." Marcelo Bielsa explains the substitutions which turned Leeds United's clash with Reading
Leeds United's squad were quick to discover that Marcelo Bielsa pulls no punches from the dug-out and Tuesday night's win over Reading owed much to Bielsa's decisive substitutions.
The club’s head coach twice replaced Kalvin Phillips before half-time during the first two months of the season and he moved quickly again to take the initiative on Tuesday by removing Gjanni Alioski and Lewis Baker after 45 minutes.
Bielsa expected the pair to force openings down the left wing but found Leeds looking blunt on that side of the pitch as Alioski and Baker - on his first league start since signing on loan from Chelsea in June - struggled to get into the game.
Samuel Saiz and Jack Clarke were given the second half by Bielsa, bringing about a change of formation which switched Pablo Hernandez to the left flank and allowed Clarke to attack the byline on the right.
Leeds forced the only goal of the night on the left flank amid overwhelming pressure on 60 minutes as a link-up play between Hernandez and Barry Douglas served up a tap-in for Stuart Dallas.
Despite refusing to criticise the performances of Alioski and Baker, Bielsa conceded that the change of personnel had brought the evening under control.
“On the right the offensive play was good but on the left side we couldn't play as deep as we did on the right,” Bielsa said. “On the right side we defended better. That was not the case on the left. That’s why I thought I had to make modifications in this sector of the pitch.
“The two players I took out of the game were playing on the left side. Baker started very well in the game but in the sector where he was playing there was a lot of density. Douglas didn’t play as offensively with Alioski as he's used to doing.
“Alioski’s a player who is offensive with the help of combinations with other players. My intention was to find the right balance on both sides but I don’t think that Alioski or Baker’s performances were bad.
“I just wanted to use players with different attributes to see if we could play as deep on the left as on the right.”
Saiz, who is vying for his first start in over a month at Sheffield United this weekend, successfully avoided a one-match ban after emerging from Tuesday’s match without a yellow card.
The 27-year-old has been carrying four cautions since early October, one away from the Football Association’s threshold for a mandatory suspension, but the governing body’s cut-off point for five bookings leading to a ban passed at the end of the clash with Reading.