QPR v Leeds United: Seven weeks on and seven defeats but Marcelo Bielsa wary of backlash from Hoops
JUST 51 days have passed since Leeds United stepped out in west London at Loftus Road.
Yet there are plenty of reasons to believe that tonight's Championship fixture will be a different ball game to the third round FA Cup clash of January 6.
On league placings and current form, Marcelo Bielsa's Whites are also strong favourites to leave with a different result.
But Bielsa remains wary of the threat of Steve McClaren's Rs and mindful of avoiding a Hoops backlash in his side's crucial game in hand.
The trip to Loftus Road over the first Sunday in January gave Bielsa his first taste of the FA Cup with the 63-year-old not surprisingly making several changes to his side.
With a Championship showdown with Derby County just around the corner, Bielsa handed starts to promising young Whites such as Leif Davis and Aapo Halme, with then Chelsea loanee Lewis Baker also handed a rare start.
There were even appearances from the bench and ultimately Leeds debuts for Clarke Oduor and Kun Temenuzhkov as United bowed out of the competition via a 2-1 defeat.
Bielsa was not alone in making changes with Rs boss Steve McClaren also making five of them but to say that QPR's fortunes have not fared well since would be an understatement of big proportions.
In sending Leeds spinning out of the FA Cup, McClaren's men were recording their fourth victory from their last six games.
The ten games that have followed have resulted in eight defeats including seven league losses in succession and only a 1-1 draw in the FA Cup fourth round tie at Portsmouth to speak of as a positive result.
QPR then won the replay but no team in the Championship is in worse form.
On paper, there is no better opponent for a Leeds side taking in their game in hand knowing that a victory would send them top of the division.
Bielsa, though, has already seen enough off the Rs to be acutely aware of the tide turning at the worst moment possible with Bielsa fullly aware that five of QPR's losses in their awful seven run stretch having come by only one goal.
"They can have a positive reaction or they can stay in the same negative cycle," said Bielsa.
"We will try to influence the events as to get the best things for us.
"And we have to analyse each game of the opponent to find out that there is a very small difference between a win and loss."
Asked what qualities he felt his side would be coming up against, Bielsa reasoned: "It’s a very clear style.
"It's a team that knows how to play with their style.
"And they know how to use and impose their skills.
"And definitely it’s not going to be an easy game tomorrow because it’s a very experienced team and it will be a very demanding game."
In stark contrast to the FA Cup clash in January, Bielsa has already revealed he will field an unchanged side for tonight's encounter with the only alterations coming on the bench.
As a big boost to Bielsa's available options, the back from injury Gaetano Berardi and Barry Douglas will both be part of the Whites 18 and United's head coach can now also call upon Izzy Brown and Stuart Dallas - two other players recently back from injury.
Summer signing and £7m striker recruit Patrick Bamford was also still on the comeback trail from a second knee injury over the first weekend in January but on the flip side Kemar Roofe, Adam Forshaw and Jack Clarke were all available.
With McClaren having also made five changes for that FA Cup clash, it means Bielsa is expecting something very different seven weeks on though not, he says, any changes in terms of styles.
"Both teams won’t play with the same players," said Bielsa.
"But I think both teams will be faithful to their styles and the pitch has its own features."
McClaren, meanwhile, says his side have been suffering as a result of facing seven games in 21 days.
“We’ve had seven games in 21 days and another two coming up and that’s not allowing us the time on the training field to iron out the mistakes,” said the Rs boss.
“We’ve Leeds on Tuesday and then we have Brentford. Then there’s a week before the next one and personally, I can’t wait for that to get back on the training field because that’s where we can correct these mistakes. In the meantime, we have to have a right go on Tuesday.
“Every team in the Championship can have this sort of run but it’s not nice, it’s horrible going through it.
“It will be the making of character for us though and generally the players have shown resilience in the face of adversity. But we have got to do it again now and not doubt ourselves.”
Sizing up the prospect of tonight's clash with the Whites, McClaren said: "This is a tough week, Leeds on Tuesday, a great atmosphere, another top team.
"We have to keep fighting and show perseverance like we have been doing and get the first win of the year."