Thomas Frank, mind games and an unfortunate Premier League scheduling quirk ahead of Leeds United clash

Thomas Frank made a half-hearted attempt to feign innocence and pass his mind games off as the mischievous work of the press, but no-one in the Griffin Park press room was really buying it after Brentford’s 1-1 draw with Leeds United.

By Graham Smyth
Friday, 3rd December 2021, 4:00 am

His pre-match utterances in February 2020 were pure ticket-selling gold, which media outlets were only too happy to distribute to the wider public.

“They play with an extreme intensity, higher than any other team in this division which we can only praise them for [and] everyone knows how much I respect Marcelo Bielsa and what he has done to build up Leeds as a club and as a team but they couldn’t pick a worse place to play Tuesday night,” he said.

“I am 100 per cent sure that they fear us going into this game but that is not to say that we are just going to win it. I promise you one thing, we will be absolutely at it and ready to attack.”

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After the game, his tune was more than a little different.

“I don’t do mind games – I think it was very well done by some of you journalists that took things out of context,” he said.

“I said that you know how much I admire Bielsa and I think Leeds are one of the best teams. But, with all the history and their current form and what Bielsa said about us in the press, they think we’re a very good team.

“Maybe they didn’t fear us but I promise you they knew it would be a difficult task. They definitely respected us.”

QUICK SUCCESSION - Brentford played Tottenham Hotspur last night and travel to Leeds United on Sunday afternoon. Pic: Getty

He wrapped up his press conference, departed with a smile and a friendly squeeze of the shoulder for the journalist who asked the fear question.

Mind games or not, he knew Leeds were not in a great place ahead of the game. Bielsa’s side were coming off the back of a dreadful, demoralising defeat at Nottingham Forest, after which the Argentine sensed a ‘loss of faith’ around the team.

Yet he somehow inspired his players to reach deep within themselves and produce a stirring performance that stung the Bees.

The Whites had more possession, more shots and attacked like a side more convinced than ever of their own ability.

There was no fear to be seen, other than in the calamitous Kiko Casilla touch that handed Brentford their opener, but even that failed to shake Leeds’ resolve.

It would later emerge that Bielsa had delivered a dressing-room speech prior to the game that had players on their feet, applauding.

And the point they secured was a springboard for five consecutive wins that put them firmly on track for promotion and the title.

Frank is often great value when he sits down with the press and, while he’s unlikely to repeat the fear line, particularly in light of Leeds’ determined display in the win over Crystal Palace and the improved mood around Bielsa’s side, he may well make mention of a quirk of Premier League scheduling ahead of Sunday’s visit to Elland Road.

Brentford played at Spurs last night, two days after Leeds’ last outing and 64 hours before a game against the team Frank called the ‘most intense’ when they were duking it out in the Championship.

All Premier League games present challenges but Tottenham, where Antonio Conte is trying to introduce his trademark intensity, and Leeds do not make for an easy one-two consecutive combination.

Add Frank’s current injury list, Leeds’ steadily-emptying treatment room and the signs of life emanating from Elland Road earlier this week when Adam Forshaw, Daniel James, Kalvin Phillips, Tyler Roberts et al gave Palace such an uncomfortable night, and it would not be unreasonable to suggest there aren’t many worse places for Brentford to travel to on Sunday than LS11.

Bielsa won’t be making that suggestion – he really doesn’t do mind games – but he will be out to inspire the kind of intensity Leeds brought to Griffin Park the night Frank had to eat his words.