Marcelo Bielsa eyes opportunity to 'redirect' Leeds United campaign after 'negative' self-critique

Leeds United had plenty to smile about in 2021.

By Lee Sobot
Saturday, 1st January 2022, 4:45 am

The second half of a season as a newly-promoted side and smooth sailing towards a superb ninth-placed Premier League finish.

There were wins at Manchester City, at Leicester City, a 3-1 beating of Tottenham Hotspur at Elland Road, all masterminded by Whites head coach Marcelo Bielsa.

Yet as a new year dawns, United’s head coach is focused only on righting the wrongs of the last few months, providing a “negative” critique of his own performance and eyeing a big step back in the right direction against tomorrow’s visitors Burnley.

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SELF CRITICAL: Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa during the 4-1 defeat to Arsenal at Elland Road. Photo by LINDSEY PARNABY/AFP via Getty Images.

Bielsa has not exactly had it easy of late, to put it mildly. Just as United’s injury woes looked to be coming to an end, key Whites trio Kalvin Phillips, Liam Cooper and Patrick Bamford all suffered hamstring injuries during the 2-2 draw at home to Brentford at the beginning of the month.

Two weeks later, four days after a 7-0 hammering at Manchester City, Bielsa found himself without 10 players for the Elland Road clash against Arsenal in which a 4-1 reverse condemned Leeds to an eighth defeat of the Premier League campaign.

The loss left Leeds 16th in the Premier League table and a small outbreak of coronavirus within the Whites squad then led to United’s festive fixtures away at Liverpool at home to Aston Villa being postponed.

The Whites temporarily closed their Thorp Arch training base for two days, and preparing for games of late has been far from ideal.

“It’s common that, in a group, three or four players are missing,” said Bielsa.

“But when a group is missing 12 or 13 players, it is a lot more difficult to manage.”

Yet United’s head coach is not one to look for excuses and is instead critical of himself as he pauses to ponder the last 12 months and looks ahead to the new year.

“The evaluation of my task in these last few months is negative,” said Bielsa, asked how he felt he had improved in 2021.

“The situations I have had to go through, I haven’t been able to resolve them as I thought I would.

"The majority of things that have happened, I thought could happen.

“I imagined resources would resolve them, but evidently those resources weren’t the adequate ones, even if there was a high percentage of injuries, and those are things that you can’t pre-empt, even less in the proportion that it was.

“The rest of the things that defined the low in performance, I thought that they could happen, and I wasn’t able to resolve them.”

In his search for solutions, Bielsa can welcome back three options for tomorrow’s clash against the Clarets that he was deprived of when facing the Gunners.

Spanish international centre-back Diego Llorente tested positive for coronavirus ahead of the Arsenal fixture for which left-back Junior Firpo was forced to serve a one-game ban for amassing five bookings.

Leeds already had eight players injured but one of those absentees, winger Dan James, will be back available to face the Clarets who have problems of their own.

Burnley boss Sean Dyche had seven players missing through either injury or Covid for Thursday’s clash at Manchester United in which the Lancashire outfit fell to a 15th defeat of the Premier League season via a 3-1 reverse.

The result means Leeds still begin a new year sat five points clear of the drop zone – albeit having played two games more than Sunday’s visitors who are the first team below the dreaded dotted line.

The picture could alter dramatically for better or worse after tomorrow’s contest against the Clarets.

“Every game that we play from here on out will be important,” said Bielsa, asked if tomorrow’s game felt like United’s most significant game for some time.

“The ones that we have played beforehand are the ones that position us where we are, and the game on Sunday is a great opportunity to redirect where the campaign is going.”

Casting his mind back to the 1-1 draw at Burnley back in August, in which Bamford struck an 86th-minute equaliser to cancel out a Chris Wood opener, Bielsa said: “Burnley is a team that is very stable, few incorporations are new, I’m referring to the fact that the basis of their team is always the same, and their way of playing is very installed in the team and very incorporated.

"As a result, we don’t imagine a different type of game from the one we played recently, as last season as in this season. The characteristics are the same and the difficulties are the same.”

Yet this time Leeds will be able to count on their home support that remained unwavering even in the closing stages of the 4-1 loss to Arsenal before United’s unforced break.

Bielsa’s name was continually echoed from the stands and the Whites boss can now count on the Elland Road crowd for United’s first task of a new year.

“Every time that we’ve played at home, the public has always been an element which pushes the team on to be in a better state of mood,” said the Argentine.

“I think that the support that the Leeds fans have for the team is unconditional, and it’s not common in these times – to conserve that recognition from the fans, even when the team is losing.”

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Thank you Laura Collins