Leeds United's risk-reward strategy under Marcelo Bielsa will backfire every now and then - Dominic Matteo

Former Leeds United player and fan favourite Dominic Matteo pens his latest thoughts on what's going on at Elland Road.

By Data Facilities
Wednesday, 17th February 2021, 6:00 am
Leeds United fell to a 4-2 defeat at Arsenal on Sunday. Pic: Getty
Leeds United fell to a 4-2 defeat at Arsenal on Sunday. Pic: Getty

We've touched on it before but we all know with this Leeds team they're going to be on the end of a few hidings in the Premier League just because of how they set out to play.

The more I watch them in the top flight the more credit I give to just how well they dominated the Championship all the way to the title last season.

It was no mean feat and the way they have attacked the best in the country in the same vein can only be admired - how often do we see newly-promoted teams clinging on for dear life?

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Leeds are up against more quality and class now of course and the one lesson you think they will have learned is to not take those risks against some of the best players in the world when it's not necessary.

Marcelo Bielsa's style is built on risk-reward attacking football - we all know that - but there has to be an element of choosing when to play and when not to because if you make bad decisions in the Premier League you get punished.

We saw what happened with goalkeeper Illan Meslier at Arsenal and how he gave the penalty away. It was a tough afternoon for him overall but I have to say I am a huge fan.

At only 20 years of age to take that number one shirt on his shoulders at Elland Road and be a reliable figure - he has a really big career ahead of him.

I think it's important for Illan to take those lessons from around the club this week because there has been a bit of criticism for his performance and rightly so.

It doesn't matter whether you're inexperienced or not when you're playing with the big boys you have to take it on the chin.

There were a few mistakes that crept in and once the confidence is knocked you see what happens - sometimes it starts to unravel in front of your eyes.

Leeds have plenty of senior pros at the club who will put their arm around him and I needed that myself when I first broke through at Liverpool - it is a really crucial age to get help, learn, develop and use the mistakes to your advantage.

He's still learning his trade and his craft on where to position himself and how to anticipate and it's a tough arena to do that in because you're going up against the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Mo Salah, Harry Kane and these top quality players.

I'm a little bit guilty at times of forgetting how old he really is because he has performed so brilliantly. I have no doubt he'll brush it off. If he played how we know he can at Arsenal there might've been a result there for Leeds.

That just shows the fine detail between winning and losing at the highest level of the game.

I also felt a little for Pascal Struijk. I know Leeds have been really unlucky with injuries but I was in the camp of leaving him in central defence with Kalvin Phillips ruled out.

He has struck up a really good partnership alongside Liam Cooper and to move into a different role can be difficult.

We've seen how long it has taken Kalvin to learn that discipline to almost perfection and I think he is a rarity because to master sitting in front and protecting the back four almost comes with age and experience.

It shows the importance of that position that the whole team is essentially exposed when Phillips isn't there. We lose that little bit of a safety net and it isn't a knock on Pascal because he is only cover and probably never really thought he would be used.

The one thing about that position is that keeping the ball is crucial and they don't ever seem to have that usual control when it is changed up - it is an issue Marcelo may look to solve this summer.

One thing I must mention as a final point is Niall Huggins. I honestly don't know much about him but it is again another tip of the hat to everyone at Thorp Arch that he was handed his debut.

No matter what Leeds side you look at down the years you can always see a presence in each team and that constant conveyor belt of talent they keep on churning out.

In my time it was obviously Alan Smith and James Milner - two players who had that no fear attitude from such a young age - but you can look at the likes of Jonny Howson, Sam Bryam, Lewis Cook, Charlie Taylor and Alex Mowatt more recently.

I think for any team it is really important to keep bringing kids through and have that nucleus of players who want to develop and get better within the walls of the training ground.

We all love big signings because of the glamour but we also love our local heroes and the more we can produce the better chance Leeds have got.

Dominic Matteo's column, in association with Data Facilities