Marcelo Bielsa admitted he was looking for better performances from Samuel Saiz and claimed the midfielder needed a boost in confidence after recalling him to Leeds United’s line-up for their win over Queens Park Rangers.
Saiz made his first start in six weeks on Saturday having lost his place after a dip in form and Bielsa said a game in which the Spaniard “played well” had also shown room for improvement.
Saiz, who has not scored in almost 13 months, made an impressive start to the season and contributed to Leeds’ strong run of results in August but his influence waned through September and October and Bielsa dropped him after a 2-0 win at home to Ipswich Town.
He stepped off the bench to lay on assists for Pablo Hernandez in a 4-1 defeat to West Bromwich Albion and a 2-0 victory over Bristol City last month but Bielsa named him as a substitute for six consecutive matches before including him in his side for the visit of QPR to Elland Road.
Bielsa said Saiz - a player he described recently as “the most skilled in our team” - had temporarily lost the knack of outclassing opposition players and urged him to “find his capacity to make the difference.”
“He needs to play more games and he needs to be more confident,” Bielsa said. “Today he made very few mistakes but it was hard for him to give us the great thing that he used to give us.
“I expect from him the capacity to beat an opponent and I hope he gets this back. He played well but he didn’t create the superiority in the challenges with the opponent. Playing well is an important step forward. Now he needs to find his capacity to make the difference.”
Bielsa was forced into two changes against QPR after losing captain Liam Cooper to knee surgery and wing-back Stuart Dallas to a fractured foot last week.
Jamie Shackleton replaced Dallas on the right side of defence while a change in formation from Leeds’ 1-0 win over Sheffield United seven days earlier allowed Saiz to play alongside Mateusz Klich in central midfield.
The alterations saw Kalvin Phillips partner Pontus Jansson at centre-backs and a mix-up between them allowed Nahki Wells to break away and scored the opening goal for QPR on 26 minutes. Leeds fought back to claim a 2-1 win through strikes from Kemar Roofe either side of half-time.
Bielsa insisted he had been happy with the contribution of his defence, despite moments of uncertainty involving Jansson and Phillips.
“I don’t think we suffered many dangerous actions,” Bielsa said. “We didn’t concede many dangerous situations to the opponent and the two or three chances we did concede were linked to the fact that the opponent had physical superiority.
“Both Jansson and Phillips were very important in the defensive sector of the team.”
Shackleton - one of four academy players who have earned debuts under Bielsa- was making only his second league start but turned in a convincing performance, finishing with a pass completion rate of almost 95 per cent.
“When we dominated the game he was influential,” Bielsa said. “He had no problems in defence and he’s a player with personality. He’s not impressed by the importance of being in the first team.”