Joe Gelhardt, Tyler Roberts and Raphinha questions all fair game as Leeds United boss Marcelo Bielsa enters familiar territory
At full-time of Leeds United's 1-0 defeat at St Mary’s, the questions were endless.
Why did Marcelo Bielsa not bring Adam Forshaw on at half-time when Leeds United had no control and looked completely overwhelmed in midfield?
Why was Raphinha not on the bench as an insurance policy for the last 10 or 15 minutes? Could he not have run on the fumes of exhilaration and pride, having spent a fortnight making himself a star in Brazil?
Why, with Rodrigo and Tyler Roberts both having such a poor game and the latter once again unable to capitalise on a ‘step forward’ in his previous outing, did Joe Gelhardt have to wait until 13 minutes from time to get on the pitch? If Gelhardt is good enough to get on the pitch at all, was it not worth sending him into the fray with more time to settle into the rhythm of the game and try to make something happen?
Why is Bielsa persisting with Roberts in any case, when both Gelhardt and Sam Greenwood are banging in the goals for the Under-23s? Where and when is Rodrigo going to find a natural fit in this system and this team?
When it comes to press conferences, members of the printed press are afforded two questions apiece and the scale of Leeds’ struggle at St Mary’s, the alarming recurring theme of a less-than-fluid attack and the whereabouts of missing players like Junior Firpo dominated the media’s encounter with Bielsa. Questions are limited for a reason, the post-game inquest can go on for only so long, particularly at away games when Leeds have coaches, trains or flights to catch.
There are questions that feel like they should be asked, like some of those above, yet the experience of dozens of previous Bielsa’s press conferences tends to lead a journalist towards others that feel more likely to elicit a fulsome response.
It’s often a question of priorities, wasting a question just isn’t an option.
There’s nothing disrespectful about those questions though, they simply reflect the ponderings of the average supporter as they troop out of a ground towards the pub or their home.
Bielsa, like any manager, might not enjoy it but is well used to having his selection decisions questioned. Around this time two years ago there was only one decision anyone wanted to talk about and it dominated press conferences.
Sticking with Patrick Bamford, then in the midst of a 10-game goalscoring drought, when Eddie Nketiah had arrived on loan from Arsenal and established himself as a more clinical looking option, did not sit well with many Whites at a time when goalscoring was an issue.
In the end, Bielsa had to go to great lengths to explain why Bamford was his number-one striker. In the end, he was entirely justified by the outcome. A lack of game time was at the heart of Nketiah’s January return to Arsenal, Jean-Kevin Augustin was signed as a replacement and Bamford retained his spot, scored 12 times between November and the end of the season and fired Leeds to promotion.
A 17-goal haul in the Premier League last season further consigned the Bamford-v-Nketiah debate to the ‘much ado about nothing’ section of Leeds United history.
Bamford is today regarded by almost all as he was by Bielsa two years ago. His absence through injury has underlined an importance that was crystal clear to his head coach even when he wasn’t putting away chances in the Championship.
Not everyone will be honest enough to admit they were baffled, frustrated or even angered by Bielsa’s trust in the No 9 - Twitter has plenty of receipts - but there’s no shame in asking questions because only the head coach is privy to his thoughts and the full facts.
Fans and the media don’t get to watch training sessions or access the data that tells Bielsa who is technically, mentally and physically ready to play on a Saturday.
He has earned the trust of the fanbase, yet retaining it when results and performances are not as they once were is a challenge every manager faces.
It’s just as much a challenge to believe in what you can’t see.
It was difficult to see Bamford becoming the prolific, pretty well-rounded top-flight striker he was last season, but Bielsa saw it and Bamford became it. He got that one spectacularly right and everything he tried to articulate two years ago is now widely accepted as fact - goals and the results have made it so.
The questions will keep coming and they intensify during periods of adversity, like this one Leeds find themselves in, and Bielsa has an impeccable record of offering some kind of answer.
Then it’s up to the fans to decide whether or not to accept and believe in his words.
A wall at Hyde Park Corner bears a striking mural of the Argentine, a masterful piece of work by street artist Irek Jasutowicz.
“A man with new ideas is a madman, until his ideas triumph,” is the Bielsa quote next to his black and white image. Whatever he says, about Roberts, Rodrigo, Gelhardt, Greenwood and his decisions, he knows full well that nothing will convince quite like performances and results.
That’s the best form of answer he can provide.