Leeds United boss Marcelo Bielsa is at it again before West Ham game and hopefully he'll never change

Marcelo Bielsa is at it again.

Thursday, 10th December 2020, 5:49 am

Leeds United’s head coach went and named his starting line-up for tomorrow night’s game, delighting Fantasy Premier League players everywhere but risking the wrath of letter-writing Whites.

It was spectacularly needless – having admitted he could play Luke Ayling or Kalvin Phillps at centre-half, he was simply asked if he would keep West Ham guessing. He could very easily have retreated behind a decision yet to be made.

It was a reminder of the good old days in the Championship, before a Leeds fan implored Bielsa to stop giving opposing teams a heads up. Even then, he couldn’t resist.

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“I cannot name the team before the game, as a supporter said I was giving away a lot to the opposition,” he said. “But between you and me it’s the same team.”

On another occasion, after yet another press conference dominated by the respective merits and contributions of Patrick Bamford and Eddie Nketiah, Bielsa was asked if Bamford would keep his place and the head coach gestured to the journalist whose question had earlier elicited a lengthy reply and said: “You’ll have to talk to him.”

The laughter was just dying down as Bielsa stopped at the door, turned and added: “Bamford will play.”

Welcome, Premier League, to the Bielsa show. On and off the pitch, it’s different, fascinating and terrific value.

OLD TRICKS - Marcelo Bielsa named Leeds United's team to face West Ham at Elland Road on Friday night during his Wednesday press conference. Pic: Getty

And while a grinning member of the Leeds media team might have put his hand to his head in mock exasperation as the names rolled off Bielsa’s tongue, “Dallas, Ayling, Cooper, Alioksi ...” and, as much as Whites fans might groan, “Phillips, Klich, Rodrigo ...” there is a potential psychological upside. Is there anything that exudes confidence in the players you have picked to play a game more than naming them in the press and giving your opponent two days to prepare for that specific line-up?

It should puff out the chest of Ayling, who will move across from his right-back position to partner Liam Cooper in the heart of the defence, and the other 10 players, because their manager has pushed them forward in the direction of West Ham and said this is what I’ve got, now try and beat it. Warren Gatland did it once, going 48 hours before the traditional squad reveal for a game against England and was accused of playing mind games, although there were no surprises in his selection and he claimed he was just giving his players the most settled week of preparation possible.

No-one was left fretting or uncertain about their potential involvement and had time to wrap their heads around the prospect facing them.

Wales lost that game and Leeds might lose to the Hammers, but both coaches believed fully in the team they picked and announced.

With Bielsa, it’s rare that you cannot have a fairly good stab at the line-up in advance, although guessing the formation or the position Stuart Dallas is playing remains a challenge midway through some games.

So why not put your cards on the table?

What is more likely than Bielsa attempting to play mind games, is him actively trying to avoid them. The question of whether he was trying to keep West Ham guessing appeared to genuinely confuse him. “Why would I do that?” his face said.

He evidently does not conform to the paranoia that grips clubs, lest some precious information leak into the public domain and enemy hands – even before the remarkable 2019 presentation in which he laid bare his analysis methods, Bielsa was open about his team but, after that, he seemed to make a habit of revealing his selection ahead of time.

Some critics of the current state of international rugby union want to move away from the traditional naming of teams 48 hours prior to games and adopt football’s 60-minute warning, to spice up a game in dire need of something, anything to make it less formulaic and there is something to be said for the 2pm buzz when the team sheets for a game of association football are made public.

But the notion that a manager can spring any real surprise, in the days of analysts pouring over endless hours of footage and knowing everything there is to know about opposition players, is as fanciful as the notion that Bielsa is putting Leeds at a disadvantage by naming tomorrow’s team on a Wednesday.

We already know his plan. It’s called Plan A, it never changes and hopefully he won’t either.