Don't call it a crisis - Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa has a 'smaller' squad but not a small one

Marcelo Bielsa has a ‘smaller squad’ but not a small squad and the distinction is important to the Argentine.

Thursday, 22nd October 2020, 5:45 am

At the start of the month the Leeds United manager was previewing his side’s game against Manchester City, with the luxury of three fit centre-halves and a fully functioning Kalvin Phillips to place in front of the back four.

When questioned about the size of his squad before that game he admitted his preference was to have enough players, but not an abundance.

“I prefer to have a smaller squad, I prefer the amount to be sufficient rather than excessive,” he said.

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“This of course is risky. When a squad is small, if there are players who can play in more than one position it is an advantage and a necessity.”

Twenty days later, the risks couldn’t be more apparent. Liam Cooper and Diego Llorente picked up groin injuries on international duty, while Kalvin Phillips injured his shoulder in Monday’s game against Wolves.

Gaetano Berardi is recovering from surgery, so the squad suddenly looks wafer thin when it comes to defensive options.

Bielsa is keen to stress thathis squad is not small, in the sense that he does not have sufficient players to cope with injuries, but it’s easy to perceive it as such when all the injuries come at once, in the same area.

INJURY VICTIM - Kalvin Phillips, being consoled by England team-mate Conor Coady, hurt his shoulder against Wolves and will be missing for Leeds United at Aston Villa on Friday. Pic: Bruce Rollinson

“The squad is not small,” he insisted.

“We have two players per position. There is not big differences between the two players who occupy each position, for example Bamford and Roberts, Costa and Poveda, Rodrigo and Hernandez, Raphinha and Harrison.

“At the moment we currently have injuries in all of the same positions. It doesn’t mean we have a small squad, if we have six players for three positions and four of them are out.

“When you have the six players and are all of a similar level, when you’re missing four of them there are obviously going to be issues.”

The solution, for Bielsa, doesn’t come in the form of extra senior players kicking around Thorp Arch and waiting for this kind of scenario. It comes in the ability of the players he already has to play in multiple positions.

Pascal Struijk can and will play in midfield in Phillips absence and if Cooper isn’t fit for Aston Villa on Friday, Luke Ayling could play at centre-half, Stuart Dallas could revert to right-back and Gjanni Alioski or Leif Davis could play left-back.

“We have many players who can play in a number of positions, almost all of them, minus Bamford and Cooper,” said Bielsa.

“Being able to play in more than one position always helps the manager.”

And with a safety net provided by the Under-23s, Bielsa has the players he needs.

“We count on players from the academy who also deserve their place in the squad,” he said. “As a result we feel we can manage the necessities of the team.”

Don’t call it a crisis.