'Indispensable' - Marcelo Bielsa fires Leeds United warning and addresses Whites issue ahead of Southampton clash
Marcelo Bielsa did not know if he would be able to count on Leeds United winger Raphinha for Saturday’s return to action at Southampton.
Yet with or without him, the Argentine is in no doubt as to the size of the challenge facing his Whites from here until May in the best league in the world that is arguably even better than last term.
Bielsa's Whites will finally return to action following the two-week October international break with Saturday's 3pm kick-off against Southampton at St Mary's.
The contest is taking place just 37.5 hours after Raphinha starred on the international stage on his full debut for Brazil, the Whites winger bagging a brace as part of a superb display in a 4-1 victory against Uruguay in the early hours of Friday morning.
Raphinha has quickly established himself as one of the Premier League's best players and is United's current top scorer for the new campaign having netted three times.
As a team, Bielsa's Whites have bagged just seven, and United's head coach readily admits that is a concern for a team who stormed to a ninth-placed finish upon last season's Premier League return.
Seven games into the new season, Leeds sit fifth-bottom and on just six points ahead of today's clash at fourth-bottom Southampton.
A victory could take the Whites up to 12th but Bielsa is braced for a stern test and continued tough assignments in what he says is clearly the best league that the planet has to offer.
"It is the best league in the world," said United's head coach.
"The best players are here, there are a group of great coaches here also.
"Even if the world has a lot of good players that don't play here, here there are a lot of good players playing.
"The organisation of the competition is unique, I think that what the public signifies for the English spectacle is a contribution to the spectacle that doesn't happen in any other part of the world in such a high proportion.
"Everything that I have just said, everyone says it, I am not saying anything new.
"There is something more of great importance, within all of this globalised scenario that the English football has managed - an expression of its players that the they have not had in a long time, in quality and quantity and in results and all of that expression is needed by an English coach, a great English coach and what I say doesn't really have any weight because it is all confirmed by the achievements.
"So how could you improve such a structure? Of course there are things to improve, I also don't have it clear whether the level this year is better or worse than last year."
Leeds are five points worse off than at the same stage of the season last year but Bielsa's side headed into the October international break on the back of their first victory of the 2021-22 campaign via a 1-0 success at home to Watford.
The triumph took Leeds out of the relegation zone but the head coach says victory at Southampton today is as imperative as ever.
"Every game, we play for three points which are indispensable for us," said the Whites boss.
"The reality of the opponent doesn’t condition our game.
"You have to analyse a lot of aspects to see the state of form of the team that we come up against, for example the opponents that they have come up against, the evaluation of their draws.
"They are all things that put together decide how many points you have and the effect of having won against Watford, we will measure it and see if we can verify it in the performance against Southampton.
“When you describe a game in the Premier League there is always a level of difficulty that is present in all of them.
"The games are always very difficult, there are some games that are a little bit more than difficult. It is impossible to say before the game, but what we are absolutely sure of is that Southampton is going to be a very, very difficult opponent to overcome.
"You can interpret that as a declaration that is very formal, or you can evaluate what type of opponent Southampton is and how they solved some difficult games that they have already played, for example against Manchester City and you see that what I am commenting on has a lot of basis of reality.
"Apart from that, it is very difficult for someone to think that we can interpret a game as accessible before having played it.”
Leeds were 2-0 winners in last season's clash at St Mary's which came in the penultimate game of the season as part of four wins in a row.
Patrick Bamford bagged United's opener but the Whites no 9 remains sidelined with an ankle issue.
Bielsa, though, says his side have it within their compass to improve their recent goals tally, even without last season's top scorer.
“I don’t think it depends on Patrick," said Bielsa.
"We can construct our offensive game in a collective manner. Of course, having a player that converts the chances increases the possibility of getting more goals.
"If you ask me if it worries me than I would say yes, that I would like it if we created more chances at goal and if we increased the efficiency.
"Both things have a margin for improvement and of course if Patrick was here we would enjoy the contribution that he makes.
"But in a parallel way we are also ready to be at the same level in the games that he is not there.”
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Thank you Laura Collins