To cross or not to cross? That was a question posed by Marcelo Bielsa in a lengthy discussion of his side’s efficiency in front of goal and their ability to get what they deserve.
Leeds United’s head coach pointed out that he has been asked about chance conversion ‘around 30 times’ and yet was still happy to expound on an issue he admits has become a ‘characteristic’ of his team.
This particular question mark has hung over Thorp Arch since last season.
Bielsa deemed it ‘a proper question’ in a stream of consciousness that showed both how seriously the Argentine is taking it and how difficult it is to answer.
There is, he says, no quick fix.
And while he and his staff can and will do everything within their power to help the players, ultimately their confidence, on-field decision making and a refusal to accept misfortune as a roadblock to their success, are vital.
To illustrate his point about attacking efficiency, Bielsa talked about defending.
“Last year we needed between four and five chances to score a goal,” he said.
“Now we need six chances to score.
“The team has improved a lot in defensive play but we need a lot of situations to score one goal.
“We concede goals, it’s difficult to manage that.
“If you classify the way we concede, I will propose set-pieces, crosses, situations created by throw-ins, long balls from the other end, and when they build attacks from the back, where the way they move the ball and play beats us – I really know these classifications of the way we concede goals because today we were talking about this with the players.
“Against Nottingham Forest and against Swansea I think were two of the best performances defensively for Leeds United.
“We lost five points in those two matches, which is the challenge for us as a team, we don’t have to display any more that we cannot get what we deserve – this period that we have displayed that we deserve more and showed ourselves is gone for us.
“We cannot forgive ourselves that we cannot get what we deserved.
“This is a world that has a lot of relations with being strong mentally, making good decisions, an opportunity to do the right thing, individually and collectively, experience, managing the moment of the game, all the things we cannot train.
“We can sit, talk with players, put questions to the group, you will see that all I’m talking about, you don’t have one exercise to try and resolve it.
“The same in the attacking play, most of the time the efficiency has no relation to the training.
“Of course the training is necessary, but you have other ways, for instance we still receive goal chances from set-pieces.
“Less than before but we still receive.
“It’s not because we don’t train the opening that creates the danger.
“Me as coach and the players as well, we are facing a really important challenge for us, that we get what we deservee and don’t accept unfair things, bad luck, as a reason to not succeed.”
After quipping that the poser of the question should consider that Bielsa’s answer may not actually be correct, he went on to use the decision-making process for a player finding himself in a crossing position, as an example of how confidence in their ability to attack in other ways can help teams eschew an easy option for a better option to score.
He picked out Barcelona and Manchester City as teams who favour working the ball back from a wide position when a cross is not the best way to proceed in an attack.
“The manager always can work on the confidence,” he said.
“There are a lot of ways to help the players.
“Footballers, ask them why they think we are inefficient with our chances, for example, the crosses from the sides to the box are a really important resource for the offensive play.
“When everybody’s watching [and] there is a possibility to cross, they claim that the player [should] cross but sometimes there is not a good option in the box and it’s better not to cross.
“Maybe in this decision about not crossing, after the team cannot find a better option than this one, but sometimes it is better to not do something that is not in a good condition to have a good result, [but] try to find a better result.
“If the player knows there is nobody to receive the cross, keep the ball, try something different and maybe after the situation develops which doesn’t allow the cross.
“The fans will say why didn’t you cross?
“I can realise that watching City and Barcelona, they can cross, but do not.
“This next situation after not crossing has an objective – to find a better solution.”
Chance conversion is the one issue that appears to vex fans the most and it’s clearly lingering on Bielsa’s mind.
With his press conference monologue he has put the ball very much in his players’ court.
By taking responsibility and taking chances, they alone can take the question off their manager’s agenda once and for all.
If he’s answering it again late on Sunday, he might not be quite so forthcoming.