Ex Whites man on why Marcelo Bielsa might be earmarking centre-half pair, an attacker to watch and why he's excited about Illan Meslier

"I didn’t see that coming," writes Dominic Matteo exclusively for the Yorkshire Evening Post.

Wednesday, 17th March 2021, 5:52 am
TOUGH CALL - Marcelo Bielsa has a tough decision on his hands when it comes to his first-choice centre-half pairing at Leeds United. Pic: Getty

There’s no way with all the attacking flair from both teams I ever thought Leeds United versus Chelsea could be a 0-0.

Defensively we were good. The partnership of Pascal Struijk and Diego Llorente did well. Llorente looked more comfortable than he did against West Ham and together they looked solid.

We’re so attacking, the full-backs are bombing on and it’s two-v-two at times at the back for the centre-halves so I think you’ve got to be really good players to play that way. The adjustment the lads have had to make in the top flight is huge and the centre-backs have done so well given all the chopping and changing.

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Llorente and Struijk could be together for a little spell and that might allow them to state a serious case to be Marcelo Bielsa’s preferred two. I wonder if Bielsa is earmarking them as his starters.

Cooper has done nothing wrong, he’s very popular and he’s the captain, a leader and on the ball he has improved massively. He’s a bit old-school and gets stuck in. Struijk and Llorente look like better ball players and then, of course, there is also Robin Koch who is on his way back. It’s going to be a tough call, the toughest really when you look at the squad.

When it comes to picking a goalkeeper it looks an easier decision. Illan Meslier is one we’ve got to keep hold of. He’s 21 and he could be anything. He’s playing so well, he’s playing above his age. This week’s call up to the France Under 21 squad is so well deserved and the way he’s going he could end up in the full squad, which would be magnificent, when you consider the greats they have produced.

Paul Robinson was probably the best young goalkeeper I played with. He was a brilliant shot-stopper. He was quite a sturdy lad, he won’t mind me saying, but he was agile and made some brilliant saves. He stands out for me, looking back. It was a great learning curve for him at Leeds because he had Nigel Martyn alongside him, which always helps.

Meslier is working with Kiko Casilla every day and hopefully that’s helping his development under goalkeeping coach Marcos Abad and head coach Bielsa.

Goalkeepers under Bielsa have to be able to play out, they’ve got to be so confident and so good on the ball. At times, I would like him to realise that if it has to go, it goes, because he does take a few chances but that is the way we play, it’s the way Bielsa is telling him to play and it’s not going to change. He seems to be learning quickly, learning from each game and getting better. He has to do so much work, he’s kept on his toes by how Leeds play and it’s exciting to watch a young player do so well.

I’m told that he’s vocal, he’s a young lad who has grasped the importance of communication early on and speaks to his team-mates throughout the game. Nigel was probably the better talker than Robbo and I liked to play with a talker, a keeper always giving you advice, even just basics. I knew with Nigel that he wouldn’t come for crosses all the time, whereas Meslier will come to grab and punch things with his size and that can sometimes take the pressure off his team-mates.

Another young one to watch is Tyler Roberts.

He had a good chance against Chelsea and did a bit better. I was starting to wonder if he was good enough but he impressed on Saturday, playing with a bit more freedom. I haven’t seen enough of him and I think he’s got more to offer. He’s got ability, I’d just like more consistency from him because that brings more game time. Certain players like playing against better teams and at the higher level, they find it easier and they embrace it. Hopefully he will be one of those. It’s difficult to see him dropping out of the team after that performance, so I expect him to start against Fulham.

Friday’s hosts have a lot to play for and they have been better to watch over the last few weeks.

I genuinely like Scott Parker, I like the way he conducts himself, the way he talks and he knows what he’s doing. I would like them to stay up with the job he’s done, some of the players he’s brought in, like Ruben Loftus-Cheek on loan from Chelsea, are fantastic.

They’re the one team, if you’re Newcastle or Brighton, to look at nervously. Being down at the bottom of the table hasn’t really fazed Scott Parker and they might just play their way out of it.

Coming up against someone like like Bielsa, one of the most world renowned coaches, is a learning curve and I’m sure he wants to get one over on Leeds.

I can see goals in this game, both teams will go for it and I think Leeds will just have a little bit too much.

The result against Chelsea should fill everyone with pride, given the players they have and where they could finish this season, and this game is a chance to build on it.