Leeds United, hysteria and Marcelo Bielsa's 'exacting standards' - Graham Smyth's Verdict on huge win over Burnley

Leeds United and Burnley are, as two clubs not known for hysteria, something of a tonic at present.

By Graham Smyth
Monday, 3rd January 2022, 4:40 am

With Sean Dyche and Marcelo Bielsa at the helm of their respective historic northern clubs, controversy and fuss is kept to a bare minimum.

Amid Covid outbreaks and cancellations, two men who might not be considered to have too much in common have rolled up their sleeves and cracked on.

Where others have complained about the hands being dealt to them, Dyche and Bielsa have remained stoical.

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The sensationalising of the sport that only ever seems to get more shrill and the growing short-termism that demands change for change’s sake or signings for signings’ sake is not for them.

“Come on, let’s get on with the challenge in front of us,” said Dyche recently.

“Remember what we are – professional footballers – and whatever comes our way we take it on and do the best we can with it.”

It was a statement that could almost have come from the lips of Bielsa, or rather his translator Andres Clavijo.

HUGE WIN - Daniel James rounded off the scoring with a late header to give Leeds United a massive 3-1 win over Burnley. Pic: Tony Johnson

What has come the way of both Bielsa and Dyche this season is a closer brush with the relegation battle than either were perhaps expecting to face.

By the time they greeted one another on the Elland Road touchline on Sunday, with five points separating their sides, the January transfer window was open for business, but neither has been eyeing it as a fix. Neither man is making public demands of their owners. They’ve both acknowledged the financial limitations that come with their club’s current reality, Leeds as a recently-promoted outfit and Burnley as a club whose owners can’t blow many, if any, Premier League rivals out of the water.

But speaking to even the most reasonable of supporters in fanbases that are, again, not known for hysteria, there is business that could and maybe should be done this month. Burnley could do with a No 10 and a striker, with goals hard to come by for Dyche’s stable of forwards. Leeds have also found goals a rare commodity but, for some time now, have felt lack more acutely in the centre of midfield, particularly when Kalvin Phillips has been out injured.

Whites CEO Angus Kinnear appeared to be keeping expectations in check with his programme notes, acknowledging fans’ natural tendency to look for optimism in the window but noting the difficulty in signing players to meet Bielsa’s ‘exacting standards’.

It was the players already at the club who provided the optimism, however, by meeting Bielsa’s standards on the pitch and producing a first half of good football and a second half of commitment. They had all the intensity he expects and much of the technical acumen that brings his footballing philosophy to life. His standards might make life challenging for the club's recruitment department, but they made life hellish for Burnley at Elland Road.

Playing as they can is all well and good, but doing it after such a difficult period and doing it in a game of this magnitude was impressive. There was no little irony in the fact that it was the midfield, led by Adam Forshaw and Mateusz Klich, who played such a vital part in the win. They outfought and outplayed Burnley, running both themselves and their opponents into the ground and making good use of the ball.

Leeds could still do with another midfielder – at least one – but the beauty of this game and the performance was that for 90 minutes all the worry and the noise about the transfer window dissipated. Had they played badly and lost or even drawn, that noise would be all Bielsa, Kinnear, Victor Orta and the clubs owners would have heard. Instead, they heard an Elland Road in fine voice.

It helped that Leeds set a good tone early on, principally through Raphinha who twice got at the visiting defence in the opening couple of minutes. For the Clarets it was ex Leeds man Charlie Taylor leading the opening salvo, cleverly winning a free-kick from Klich that forced Illan Meslier off his line to punch clear and then racing onto an overlap to cross dangerously.

There was sloppy play from each side, on a slippy surface, but the early aggression was all Leeds, Tyler Roberts winning a tackle with Matt Lowton only to be booked for the follow through, Forshaw besting Johann Gudmundsson with a huge challenge. There were interceptions all over the pitch that put the hosts on the front foot.

They had the first shot of the game, a low Stuart Dallas’ effort that was well held, and the second, Raphinha’s audacious attempt from 10 yards inside the Burnley half that clipped the crossbar.

Leeds, playing the better stuff, went even closer when Raphinha whipped in a low ball and Junior Firpo’s flick had Hennessey scrambling. Meslier produced a reaction save to deny Chris Wood but, other than that, it was one-way traffic and Burnley were a side hanging in there. They took their time over restarts and when play did get going, haphazard attempts to retain possession in their own half led to countless turnovers and Leeds counter attacks.

When it was James Tarkowski’s turn to err, Jack Harrison took full advantage, squeezing the ball home at the near post, at the second attempt. Leeds appeared to be rediscovering themselves, Harrison too. He rounded Jack Cork and fed Roberts whose flick put Firpo in for a shot he couldn’t keep down.

Burnley did end the half with a chance, though, Wood firing a Taylor cross over the top, and more was to come in the second half. Maxwell Cornet replaced Gudmondsson and the Clarets looked instantly more dangerous.

There was an element of good fortune in the awarding of a free-kick that led to their equaliser – Cornet appearing to be giving as good as he got from Diego Llorente yet finding favour from referee Paul Tierney. There was nothing lucky about the goal, the substitute bending a 25-yard effort around the wall and beyond Meslier’s dive.

Leeds, unable to get Raphinha into the game to the same degree as in the first half, still held danger on the counter attack, Daniel James’ cross for fellow replacement Joe Gelhardt claimed in the nick of time by Hennessey. The teenager, whose introduction for the injured Roberts brought a visceral roar from Elland Road, brought energy to the game with runs in behind that kept the Burnley back line on edge.

But it was more of an even contest. Cornet flicked a corner just over the top at one end and Raphinha met a low James cross but found the sidenetting instead of the gaping goal.

Both sides had their sleeves rolled up as the half developed and the three points were very much in the balance until Leeds’ quality finally told. A short-corner routine saw the ball rolled into the path of Dallas and he marked his 250th Leeds appearance with a beautiful finish.

Leeds didn’t look back. Klich unlocked Burnley with some quick feet, Gelhardt curled in a beauty of a cross and James’ header had too much on it for Hennessey.

As Elland Road erupted Bielsa embraced assistant Pablo Quiroga tightly but, after the game, he was quick to point out that this level of performance will be needed again and again. This was a big win, a huge win in fact, but no one at Leeds is getting hysterical.