What Leeds United fans need from Marcelo Bielsa at West Ham United press conference

“Balance is the most important,” a wise man once said and it applies to Leeds United now more than ever.

By Graham Smyth
Thursday, 13th January 2022, 4:40 am

The wise man was Thierry Henry, discussing Paris Saint-Germain’s need to be incredible at both ends of the pitch and not just a top-end heavy band of world-class attackers, a week after they signed Lionel Messi.

Messi, of course, is a player who has relied on his incredible gift of balance throughout his career, slaloming and gliding past defenders in the way that only the true greats of the game can.

It is a trait that sets the elite apart, something exhibited wonderfully and stubbornly by Maradona as opponents tried to chop him down, something that makes Phil Foden so enjoyable to watch on the ball and helps Raphinha leave defenders in this wake. Joe Gelhardt has it too.

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Staying upright, when many others would topple, is a huge advantage. And the circumstances Leeds and Marcelo Bielsa find themselves in at present would be enough to send many others crashing.

The head coach will sit down with the media on Friday afternoon to talk, via a laptop, Zoom and his translator Andres Clavijo, about Sunday’s return to West Ham United.

At any other time, it might have been a nice time to discuss the psychology of facing the same opponent at the same venue in consecutive games just seven days apart, or, after David Moyes revealed himself to be a Motown man, Bielsa’s musical genre of choice.

But he knows what’s coming.

BIG HOPE - Leeds United striker Patrick Bamford returned against Brentford only to reinjure himself and then had his comeback delayed last weekend. Pic: Getty

“With respect to the injuries, as I’m constantly interrogated, I have no other remedy than to comment on it,” he said last week, with a hint of exasperation.

Yet, when there’s the possibility of a dozen first-team squad members sitting in the stands or watching from home due to injuries and suspension, when it seems like a single Covid-19 case would be enough to have this weekend’s game called off, team news is going to sit right at the top of the agenda.

After recruitment updates, team news is the second most sought-after detail, whether it’s good news or bad - fans just have to know.

The order in which any potential positive updates on Patrick Bamford or confirmations of the unavailability of others come is neither here nor there, they just want to know it all. It’s not that possession of such information makes them any less helpless to change the outcome of a hugely important game, but they at least know what their head coach and his team are dealing with.

Ironically, even if the news that comes from Bielsa’s lips is all of a negative nature, supporters will feel a greater sense of equilibrium than if they went marching on to the London Stadium with no knowledge at all of what to expect from the team sheet.

The hope is that Bielsa will at least declare Bamford and Rodrigo available, even if it comes with a caveat that they have missed a lot of football and need time to recover their best level, because Roberts, Gelhardt and Greenwood are all out. The thought of going to West Ham completely unbalanced, without a striker, without the presence and outlet a good one can give a side, is not a pleasant one because few can have watched the Daniel James centre-forward experiment and come away satisfied. But Bielsa and Leeds are walking a tightrope right now between putting out a competitive team to get vital results and risking players in the early stage of full rehabilitation from injury. The same could be said for the intensity of their midweek training sessions - it must be high enough to ensure they're in condition to give their all in a game but that comes with the possibility that others could get hurt. Impact injuries like Cresswell's and Gelhardt's do not come from fatigue, they could come from frenetic football however - both were inadvertently hurt by team-mates.

"To make decisions in one way or another is very difficult," said Bielsa on Sunday. Last weekend there was a decision taken to keep Bamford away from the FA Cup tie, due to the tightness or knock he felt in training, yet any cup result cannot be viewed as half as vital as any Premier League win when you’re close to the bottom three.

Whatever the reasons for the frequency at which Bielsa’s players have been dropping, even if it is just rank bad luck, Leeds cannot afford to be so thin on the ground for very much longer, making a January addition or two appear essential.

That is what makes the loan exit of Cody Drameh, or at least its timing, look all the more odd.

Leeds, evidently, are taking a balanced view on the young right-back, however, ultimately agreeing to the move believing it to be the right course of action for the player and his development even if it leaves the squad all the more unbalanced, until such a time as reinforcements arrive from within or without.

The news of his temporary departure would have been met with a muted response, had it been inked in the summer, yet this is a delicate time. It’s a time for fans to take deep breaths before responding - Kris Moore’s contract extension for example is not part of the discussion over recruitment - and the club to look at the big picture while taking exactly the right small steps towards it.

One misstep, a wrong signing or the right signing slipping through the net, could invite disaster.

Bielsa won’t give anything away on possible incomings, but his thoughts on Drameh will be interesting, because that is a subject he will undoubtedly have to broach.

On that and on the injury news, whatever it may be, what is required of Bielsa right now is some reassurance, one of those memorable quotes that galvanises a worried support or a statement that says all is in hand, as much as it can be, and that hand is steady. The demeanour of a man in control despite it all might even be enough.

Stability is key. Balance is all.