Marcelo Bielsa claimed Gjanni Alioski was the victim of a packed domestic and international schedule after substituting the Leeds United winger at half-time twice in the space of five days.
Bielsa withdrew Alioski on the back of 45 anonymous minutes at Sheffield United on Saturday and saw the switch pay off again as his replacement, Jack Clarke, set up Pablo Hernandez’s winner eight minutes from the end.
Alioski retained his starting place at Bramall Lane despite a downturn in a form and an ineffective performance in Tuesday’s 1-0 victory over Reading.
The Macedonia international and Lewis Baker were both removed at the interval against Reading in a tactical alteration which helped Leeds turned an even contest their way.
Alioski holds one of only three ever-present Championship records in Bielsa’s squad and also played in both of the United’s League Cup ties in August.
Regular outings for Macedonia during the season’s international breaks have increased his number of competitive outings to 26 and Bielsa blamed the ceaseless run of matches for Alioski’s disappointing displays.
“It would be difficult to defend a position where you switch a player after 45 minutes or say he played very well,” Bielsa said. “It was not a tactical substitution and it was not a substitution because he got injured.
“But the value I give to Alioski is important and it’s still the same. My opinion regarding him is still the same. He will always have influence in the team.
“So far Alioski played almost 30 games, taking into account all the Championship games and international games. It’s hard to think you can play 30 games without having ups and downs.”
Clarke, Leeds’ 18-year-old academy product, has been knocking on the door under Bielsa for the past two months and he produced another fearless performance in a heated Yorkshire derby at Bramall Lane.
The winger took advantage of a mistake by Sheffield United goalkeeper Dean Henderson in the 82nd minute to guide a cut-back to Hernandez and leave the Spaniard to fire into an empty net. The late goal sealed a 1-0 win.
Bielsa is yet to start Clarke and insisted before Saturday’s match that the winger’s ability to cope with the physical demands of a 90-minute ouoting was still in question but speaking after a precious win in Sheffield, the Argentinian said: “Every time he plays he adapts better to the demands of Leeds. He doesn’t look like a young player and every time he plays he has the capacity to create a difference with the opponent.
“The action of the goal was not linked to his best virtues, his best skills, apart from the fact it was an important point during the game. But every time he plays he makes the difference.”
Bielsa, meanwhile, revealed how tactical advice from his assistant, Pablo Quiroga, helped him to gain a foothold in a derby which Sheffield United dominated early on.
“There was a moment, very important, for me,” Bielsa said. “My colleague Pablo Quiroga told me to switch the position between Kemar Roofe and Pablo Hernandez and from that moment on the play of the team improved.”