Marcelo Bielsa warned that Leeds United’s chance of promotion would not come again with his existing squad next season as the club crossed their fingers for a miracle at the top of the Championship.
United’s head coach said a group of players who he took from 13th place in the league last season to third this term were unlikely to be able replicate the campaign which put them on the brink of automatic promotion to the Premier League until a crushing Easter weekend.
Leeds, who lost to Wigan Athletic and Brentford in the space of four days over Easter, sit three points behind Sheffield United with two games left and will effectively be out of contention if the Blades beat Ipswich Town at Bramall Lane tomorrow night.
Despite the possibility of a favourable result in Sheffield opening the door once more, Bielsa claimed a 2-1 loss to 10-man Wigan on Good Friday had “decided our fate”, leaving the club to brace themselves for a probable run in the play-offs.
Bielsa made limited changes to the squad he took on when he was named as head coach last June, invigorating a dressing room who had limped into a mid-table finish under his predecessor, Paul Heckingbottom.
The 63-year-old said he believed he and his staff had pushed the players to their maximum limit and admitted he would not expect the same group to compete so strongly in the same division next term.
“The only feeling I have towards our players is respect and consideration,” Bielsa said.
“The game that decided our fate was the game we lost at home to Wigan. In that game we had 15 chances to score and we had more than 70 per cent of possession so the final result was a decision of God, not mine. But I know that what I’m saying, people will repeat sarcastically.
“Remember what I say now because you’ll be able to verify it. You won’t find a single player in our team who would be able to reproduce the same level of performance in another season because we’ve been very demanding with them.
“They’ve given everything and they have figures I’m checking all the time which show what I’m saying is true. The players won’t be able to reproduce the levels they have shown in another season.”
Bielsa made similar comments after Monday’s loss at Brentford, saying United had “hidden limits” with results which have carried them onto 82 points, their best performance in the Championship since dropping into the EFL in 2004.
The club had automatic promotion in their hands with four matches remaining but failed to cling onto second place.
Leeds host Aston Villa on Sunday, a clash which could be repeated in the play-off final next month. Villa, who lost 3-2 to United in a dramatic game in Birmingham before Christmas, are fifth in the table and on a record-breaking run of 10 straight victories.
Dean Smith’s side are already headed for a top-six finish and a win for Sheffield United tomorrow would render Sunday’s lunchtime kick-off - a sell-out with an expected crowd of over 36,000 - irrelevant in a competitive sense.
Bielsa and his players cut demoralised figures after losing 2-0 to Brentford and Bielsa said: “When you receive a blow, to ignore the consequences is not the right path. Pain has a natural process and if you want to hide this, it’s meaningless
“You can feel only one way (disappointed) and we feel this way. The way the players feel is normal and if they didn't feel that way then we would be worried about it.
“But of course we need to play a game that would build our optimism and winning on Sunday would be something good in that respect.”