Leeds United's Pontus Jansson - fuelling Derby's fire, yearning for the Premier League and why he tried to stop THAT Aston Villa goal

Leeds United defender Pontus Jansson.
Leeds United defender Pontus Jansson.
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Marcelo Bielsa got the bad news out of the way early on yesterday. Tyler Roberts would miss Leeds United’s play-off semi-final at Derby County and Pontus Jansson might join him.

Jansson was next into the press conference and quickly laid his cards on the table. “I’ll play in a wheelchair if you want,” he quipped.

Jansson has an ankle injury and missed yesterday’s training session but if ever there was a time to grin and bear it, this is it.

“I don’t know what was said but it’s been a long season," he said.

"I’ve pain everywhere and that’s just normal. I’ve had a pain in my foot for a couple of games so it’s not a big thing. It was a little bit more today so I rested it but hopefully it’ll be good.”

A long season is a fair description - 10 months and 14 days exactly since Bielsa drove into Thorp Arch and began imprinting his soul on everything - and there is no-one in his squad who wants to stand by while the Championship play-offs rage.

The hook of promotion, the belief that Bielsa’s methods would make it possible, drove his squad to lose weight, redefine their skill sets and ride the marathon with a head coach who never slows the pace.

“These are three of the biggest games of our career,” Jansson said. And so they are.

These three matches are all or nothing, the unbearable but irresistible game of risk which made the play-offs a permanent fixture on the EFLs calendar a long time ago.

Players and managers who compete in them always reach the same conclusion: the best way to win promotion and the worst way to lose it. Leeds have already felt promotion slide once, knocked out of the automatic positions last month, but a second chance is there to be taken.

“I’ve been through a lot of situations,” Jansson said.

“I played in the team who are in my heart, Malmo, and won the league when I was there. That was big for me. I’ve played in Euros and World Cups (with Sweden) but to be in this situation is special.

“I feel guilty now, about giving the supporters the chance to go to the Premier League. This year from day one it’s been ‘this is the year, we have to go to the Premier League.’ That’s how we talk, that’s how the fans talked, and now we’re so close. If we don’t do it I’ll be sad for a couple of months. In my head, we just have to do it.”

The pathway is as clear as it could be: a two-legged semi-final against Derby County, starting with the first leg at Pride Park tomorrow, and the final at Wembley against either Aston Villa or West Bromwich Albion.

Leeds’ head-to-head record could not be much healthier.

Two games against Derby yielded six points, two games against Villa yielded four and West Brom’s visit to Elland Road in March was met with the most complete performance Bielsa’s team have put together. The only black mark was a 4-1 loss at The Hawthorns before Christmas, when West Brom - helped by a since-departed loanee in Harvey Barnes - made Leeds hurt.

“The good thing now is that the best games we’ve had have been against the best teams in the league,” Jansson said. “It gives us confidence because we know that we always play good against the big teams.”

Would the wins over Derby, emphatic on both occasions, provide a mental edge?

“Maybe a little bit,” he said. “They were two good games from us but this will be a new game, a hard game. They’ll prepare more because they lost twice against us.

“Formation-wise I think they’ll stay the same but maybe they will change some small details. In those two games we were on our toes from minute one until the last one. If we do the same then it will probably be tough for them again.”

The play-offs need bite and Jansson on his day has a pair of teeth like no-one else in Bielsa’s dressing room.

He made waves last month when, in a bizarre 1-1 draw with Villa, he threatened to disregard an order from Bielsa to allow Villa to score an unopposed equaliser in the minutes after a controversial goal from Mateusz Klich. Bielsa agreed that Albert Adomah should be allowed to level the game unopposed but while most of United’s players stood back, Jansson made a brief attempt to force Adomah away from goal.

The incident divided opinion between some who thought Jansson should have followed Bielsa’s instruction and others who felt the Swede was right to resist the concession.

Earlier this week Bielsa sat down and agreed with his squad that after the argument over Klich’s finish - scored while Villa’s Jonathan Kodjia was hurt in the centre circle - they would refuse to kick the ball into touch tomorrow unless the referee insisted on stopping the game for an injured player to receive treatment.

“We talked after the (Villa) game and he understood me and I understood him,” Jansson said.

“Of course, if it was outside of a football game then I would understand but when I play football you can’t talk to me. I was so into it and I play with so much emotion that sometimes I make wrong or right decisions.

“With that decision I just handled it how I thought was right. When you look back, maybe I should have let them score, I don’t know. That’s how I am. I’m doing what I think is right.

“It was a funny situation because when we scored there was a big argument and I wasn’t there because I’d walked over the bench to (John) Terry and Dean Smith to say sorry. The first thing they said to me was ‘now you have to let us score’.

“I said ‘I can’t. That’s not me, I’m sorry but I can’t.’ One minute later I had to do it but when it happened in my head I was like ‘I can’t let them score.’ There was so much going on in those five or six minutes.

"Afterwards, of course I should have let them score.”

Football matters, and more than ever when the stakes are raised this high.

Jansson was 13 when Elland Road last staged a Premier League fixture and 15 when Leeds last went this close to promotion, in the play-offs of 2005-06. Fifteen years is not quite a generation but the club have been chasing the dream for the best part of a footballer’s career.

Jansson can see the adulation waiting around the corner but believes most of it should be saved for the club’s head coach.

“Every one of us would be legends, especially Marcelo,” Jansson said. “He’s already God with the fans. How he’s changed us and the club, he’s the main man.

“Me, maybe when I came here I saw myself as the main man but not anymore. I’m just one of the players and I feel happy to be here. I’m blessed to be here.”