Former Whites captain sure Leeds Unted's Bielsa-ball will be suited to Premier League

STEPHEN Warnock has a foot in both camps for Leeds United’s Premier League opener at Liverpool.

Saturday, 12th September 2020, 5:45 am
Updated Saturday, 12th September 2020, 11:10 am

The Ormskirk-born defender might have spent considerably longer with the Reds, but more outings arrived for the Whites, including as captain.

The left-back made 64 league starts in 67 appearances during a time of struggle when Leeds were toiling in vain to try and secure a return to the Premier League.

As Warnock left Leeds for Derby County in January 2015 following two years at Elland Road, United were closer to English football’s third tier than the top one, loitering down the wrong end of the Championship in 20th place.

Sign up to our Leeds United newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

SUBLIME: Pablo Hernandez finishes off a majestic move that involved some 30 passes in Leeds United's victory against Stoke City at Elland Road back in July. Photo by George Wood/Getty Images.

Five-and-a half years on, a different breed of Leeds United side are finally back in the top flight, launching their season in a mouthwatering opener at Anfield, the home of defending champions Liverpool – the club where Warnock’s career began.

As the defender first broke into the Reds’ first team, Leeds were facing up to their first season back down in English football’s second tier following their relegation of May 2004.

But 16 years later, Warnock has no doubts that newly-promoted United’s free-flowing, passing football will be well-suited to the rigours of the Premier League, with the potential to cause Liverpool problems in tomorrow’s opening-day encounter.

For Warnock, tomorrow’s showdown will offer an intriguing battle between two of his former sides in a televised Saturday tea-time kick-off.

It will present a clash of two champions, one from the Premier League, the other from Championship, both sides storming to their respective titles last term in what amounted to a perfect year.

The former defender’s first club powered their way to a memorable triumph as they became champions of England for the first time in 30 years, finishing 18 points clear of their nearest rivals, Manchester City.

One tier below, Leeds were as impressive in Argentinian head coach Marcelo Bielsa’s second season in charge as his free-flowing, energetic, high-pressing game led to United ending their top-flight exile, a 10-point cushion over runners-up West Bromwich Albion proof of how deserving they were of all the accolades that came their way.

Ahead, lies an altogether different ball game for the Whites, but Warnock confidently expects them to thrive under the undoubted pressure they will come under now they find themselves among the English game’s big guns once again.

“That’s the big question, whether ‘Bielsa-ball’ will be a hit or a miss in the Premier League – I actually think it will suit them,” said Warnock, speaking on Sky Sports earlier this week.

“What we were used to seeing in the Championship from Leeds was that teams would sit back against them, making it particularly hard for them to try and break opponents down.

“But the counter-attacking play of Leeds, the speed at which they break, the one and two-touch football and the movement from the players was quite brilliant to watch at times.

“What you notice is that Leeds never get players closing them down and you might think that’s not good from any opposition.

“But it’s great play from Leeds that they never get put in a situation like that.

“Their one-touch football is magnificent and the goal against Stoke went for 30 passes and it was typical Marcelo Bielsa-ball.

“They pass it around and they are patient but what you will find is that there is never a glove laid on them and whether that’s good play from Leeds or poor from the opposition, what you will find with Bielsa is that they are so patient in the way that they play.

“They don’t look to force anything and they look to find that killer pass that they know is the right pass to play forward and is the right pass to put them into a goal-scoring opportunity.”

A total of 77 goals saw Leeds to promotion and the title that subsequently came with it.

There could and should have been a lot more with Bielsa often bemoaning his side’s habit of needing up to five or six chances for each goal.

That, though, significantly improved towards the end of the season, with Leeds scoring three goals or more in five of their last nine games.

Warnock says the Whites will tomorrow face the side with the best pressing game in Europe, but the 38-year-old believes the newcomers might be able to find a way through.

“When you are talking about pressing and Leeds coming up against teams and how easy they have found it, you are talking about playing against the best teams in the league and especially the best pressing team that we have had in Europe for the last couple of seasons in the shape of Liverpool,” he said.

“It’s how they press. Manchester City are similar to Bielsa, it’s Guardiola-ball, if you like, in the way they play but there is a difference in the press from Liverpool.

“They force a player to make a pass and force players into making a pass that is an awkward ball to control. It makes it difficult to get up the pitch and Liverpool end up winning back possession.

“If Leeds stay calm, they can get through the press and get out of it, there is definitely a capability to do that.

“But Bielsa won’t change his ways and that’s something that Liverpool are going to have to do, they are going to have to make sure that they stick to their ways, but Bielsa has got to be calm with the players and give them confidence.”

Leeds has a fantastic story to tell - and the Yorkshire Evening Post has been rooted firmly at the heart of telling the stories of our city since 1890.

We believe in ourselves and hope you believe in us too. We need your support to help ensure we can continue to be at the heart of life in Leeds.

Subscribe to our website and enjoy unlimited access to local news and information online and on our app.

With a digital subscription, you can read more than 5 articles, see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content.

Click here to subscribe.

For more details on our newspaper subscription offers click here.

Thank you Laura Collins