Marcelo Bielsa details where Leeds United have grown and reasons for Premier League optimism
Marcelo Bielsa says his growing Leeds United side can now go into every Premier League game with optimism.
The Whites’ draw with Manchester United on Sunday stretched their unbeaten run to six games and made it five points from the encounters with Manchester City, Liverpool and the Red Devils. In five Elland Road games against the ‘big six’ Leeds are yet to be beaten.
Ordinarily Bielsa likes to focus on individual games and save definitive conclusions about the team’s improvement until the season is finished, but he’s evidently now seen enough to declare a growth in their ability to handle the big games.
As ever, he gives the credit to his squad, individually and as a collective.
“The group of players have constructed a solid group,” he said.
“Throughout this time they made errors and they’ve learned how to correct them. In the same way, they’ve learned to avoid errors that are avoidable. I have the feeling there’s been a growth in maturity, in the experience to manage these games.
“The way in which to administer the different periods in the game has been improving.
“The capacity for the players to go up against these very good players has also increased. Progressively, but not in a definitive manner, we can impose ourselves over the opposing defence and avoid being overcome by attackers of the highest level. These are individual merits and a great togetherness within the components of the team allows them to support each other throughout the whole game.”
Much was made of a more pragmatic approach on display from Bielsa and his side in their last three games, albeit while down to 10 men in the smash-and-grab win over Manchester City, which was summed up by a defensive minded substitution late on during the draw with Manchester United. With 13 minutes to go and the score 0-0 Bielsa replaced his playmaker Tyler Roberts with defender Robin Koch, who partnered Kalvin Phillips in midfield.
Bielsa readily admits these are games he and his players cannot expect to dominate.
“In none of the [home] games against these big sides, apart from the game against Arsenal were we able to predominantly dominate in order to go and win the game,” he said.
“But the draws against Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea are good games to judge the players. Clearly at this moment we can’t go into the games to dominate these types of games to win them. At this moment we haven’t managed to achieve that, except against Arsenal, I’m referring to the first half, as the second half we had a player more.”
Bielsa cannot say if his players’ increased capacity to take on the elite, or their evident ability to defend in a manner critics suggested was beyond them following the 6-2 defeat at Old Trafford, will lend itself to a bid for European football next season.
He believes they still have room for improvement.
But he’s satisfied that they have plenty of cause for optimism, regardless of the quality or identity of the opposition they face.
“It is clear there’s a margin for improvement that the team still hasn’t achieved yet,” he said.
“But at the same time, as a group, because it’s a group that functions in a very united manner, they have managed to create a base where they can go into every game with a fair optimism.”