Dan James will be hoping to deliver under Marcelo Bielsa after whirlwind Leeds United spell

It has been a whirlwind three months for Dan James at Leeds United.

Tuesday, 7th December 2021, 6:00 am

Much like his on-pitch exploits - where everything seems to happen in a blur - his arrival from Manchester United on summer-deadline day has been and gone in a flash.

Twelve Premier League appearances under head coach Marcelo Bielsa have followed amid 926 minutes of Whites action that has brought one goal and one assist to date.

James was thrust in at the deep end fairly sharpish under his new manager, having little time to adjust to his West Yorkshire surroundings before becoming a first-team regular.

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Leeds United's Dan James in action at Elland Road. Pic: Tony Johnson

The 24-year-old has had to adapt quickly and it has, at times, been very much a learning-on-the-job situation.

His natural skills mean Bielsa-ball seems like an ideal fit though there has been no time to take a step back to assess after spending all three international breaks away from Thorp Arch with Wales this season.

James’ pressing from the front has been a major boost to United’s ranks - as any defender who has taken two touches in the vicinity of the forward will attest - though his final ball at crucial moments has left fans yearning for more.

Two crunching and fiery - but fair - tackles in quick succession showed his fight against Crystal Palace, and raised the volume inside Elland Road, but a key moment in the latter stages against Brentford summed up the in-between he has found himself in recently, over-hitting a cross after breaking to the byline in search of a leveller that later came.

Perhaps a summation in itself of his time in this particular Leeds team so far; nearly, but not quite. Leeds have struggled, on the whole, to reach the same heights as last season when they finished ninth in the top flight.

James has had a new system to understand amid a lot of moving parts, himself included. A constant changing of positions across the front three in the absence of leading front man Patrick Bamford has been another skill he has had to master all whilst competing amongst the demands of the Premier League.

“I think the manager has been putting me in positions where I can be the best to exploit the opportunities,” James said recently. “I’m working hard to keep doing that. That’s what you want to do as a forward player.”

His first goal for the club came in a losing cause at Tottenham Hotpsur last month while his first assist owed a lot to the individual brilliance of Raphinha at Norwich City.

James’ transfer fee of around £25m means heightened expectations are on his shoulders along with the pressure from the insistence of Leeds in wanting to land his signature, who saw an initial deal for his services fall through from then Championship rivals Swansea City in 2019.

He himself admitted a few weeks ago that there was far more to come from him in a Leeds shirt, but his adaptation to the Bielsa way has had to unfold in front of supporters eyes, sometimes down to choice but mainly down to necessity amid injuries.

The Welsh forward, though, is lapping up being part of the Whites’ set-up in what has been a manic period since his arrival.

“He’s amazing. He’s a manager who is recognised around the world as a top manager by all the other coaches, they all really respect him,” James said of his time under Bielsa’s watch so far.

“As soon as I came in, from day one, he wanted me to learn - and he knows that I want to learn every single day and that is what I have been doing. I have learnt so much from him since I have come in and I want to keep doing that.

“Everything on the training field, everything inside, all the analysis and things like that... I want to take it on board with what he has to say to me.

“He always has a reason for something and, even when you don’t understand it so much, he will explain it to you. He’s always there to help. I just needed to keep working hard every single day under Marcelo and I’ll always continue to do that. Obviously, the training routine is a little bit different, but he knew that’s how I play every week. So I think adapting didn’t take me long.

He has his ways of playing, he sticks to them and I think, as players and managers, you really respect that and it’s just great to be part of it.”

A willingness to constantly learn should take him far at Leeds under his Argentine boss. A belief in now being adapted to Bielsa’s regime will help too.

Supporters - and James - will be hoping his steady upward curve in form can take an increased trajectory over the Christmas run as Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool await.

Goals and assists will be needed, something that he is yet to deliver consistently in a Leeds shirt though not for the want of trying.