Graham Smyth: Leeds United have so much control Marcelo Bielsa can afford to tinker a little and play Eddie Nketiah with Patrick Bamford

Teaching a dog to balance a treat on its nose without eating it has always struck me as a little bit cruel.

Thursday, 24th October 2019, 7:00 am
Eddie Nketiah has shown his goalscoring pedigree in cameo appearances (Pic: Getty)

You know the dog is going to get the treat, the dog knows it is going to get the treat, so just let the poor creature have its treat and stop teasing it.

Watching Eddie Nketiah score goals is a treat and Leeds United fans are salivating at the enjoyment he could bring.

The same inevitability that surrounds him when the ball is delivered correctly into the penalty area is creeping more and more into the discussion over a potential starting place.

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Surely now, after another goalscoring cameo at Preston, it is a question of when, not if.

Yet still Marcelo Bielsa says wait.

The longer Nketiah stays on the bench, the more cruel it feels, for the player as much as anyone else.

He has proven in substitute appearances that he can and will find space in the area and, if he’s found, he’ll find the net.

Patrick Bamford is doing everything but score (Pic: Getty)

He continues to find himself on the bench, a situation that could quite feasibly lead to his parent club Arsenal finding him a new home come January.

When, after banging in a hat-trick for England Under-21s, he spoke earnestly of his disappointment at not starting for Leeds United, it was perfectly reasonable to do so and more power to him for expressing how he actually feels, instead of giving the standard cliched replies of many modern-day players.

You want every player to be dissatisfied with a place on the bench, hungry to get on the pitch, champing at the bit to dislodge the player currently holding what they see as their rightful place in the team.

And you want your strikers to be confident that the chances spurned by others are chances they could put away, you want them to back themselves to put the ball in the net every time they step onto the pitch.

That self belief courses through Nketiah, it oozes from him. Even his nonchalant, almost cocky goal celebrations tell you that he knows, with feeling, with a deep conviction, that more are on the way. His demeanour after the late winner at home to Brentford, the late goal to break the tension at Barnsley and the looping head to send the away end into raptures at Preston screamed ‘this is what I do and there’s plenty more where that came from’.

For one so confident in his own ability, so in love with the art of goalscoring and so in form for both club and country, patience must be the hardest thing in the world to master.

Remaining level headed when they close the M62 late on a Tuesday night is difficult enough – there is a reason why patience is held up as a virtue.

Nketiah, like Phil Foden at Manchester City, like any player, puts his fate in a manager’s hands and can only do what is asked of him when opportunities come his way.

So far, the player Leeds went out of their way to bring in on loan is holding up his end.

The pace and nous he showed to win the late free-kick at Deepdale, the movement to find room in a packed penalty area, the leap to meet Jack Harrison’s cross and the wherewithal to guide a header up and over Declan Rudd and his defenders into the net, that is why Victor Orta pitched an Elland-Road loan to the Gunners and that is what Leeds United ask of the striker.

Bielsa, in possession, he says, of facts that others do not see, will continue to make his decisions based on the bigger picture and what he knows he can do with a group of players.

There was little, if anything, in his post-match comments to suggest Nketiah is destined for the starting line-up, despite a goal drought nearing 10 hours for Patrick Bamford.

Anyone can see the effort Bamford puts in, the hold up play and the selfless work to help the team play Bielsaball. Everyone can see that he is not scoring goals and an increasing number of people might see him as expendable, yet his contribution is pivotal.

For me it is Nketiah and Bamford, the latter playing behind the former, not either or. Leeds’ control of games is so strong that they could afford to tinker, just a little.

Bielsa is yet to be convinced that taking out a midfielder to accommodate Nketiah is the answer, but he might not be unconvinced forever, particularly if the Whites continue to score so few goals.

Sitting second, two points off the top, he can hardly be accused of getting it wrong and, as he says, the season is long and we’re just 13 games in.

Even if the wait feels cruel, the treat is still there and will be enjoyed, as long as another dog doesn’t come along in January and swipe it.