Samuel Saiz introduced himself to Leeds United with a hat-trick on his debut and his reputation in Spain was that of a goalscoring playmaker with a respectable record of one in five games.
Latterly, though, he has hit a wall on that front: no goals in the Championship for 10 months and none since he drew first blood in a 2-0 win at Barnsley last November. It was noted at Sheffield Wednesday on Friday that while Leeds came up with 25 attempts, Saiz was the only outfield player who failed to produce one of them.
There was a positive flipside to that statistic: that the Spaniard created more of United’s chances than anyone else on the pitch and as the club’s number 10, creativity and patient string-pulling is what Marcelo Bielsa’s tactics are bringing out of him.
Saiz scored in a Carabao Cup win over Bolton Wanderers in August and his drought in the Championship is not, as it turns out, a reflection of any refusal to shoot. He and Gjanni Alioski have seen the most efforts on goal this season, 22 apiece, but there is a marked difference between the chances that fall to them: 17 inside the penalty area for Alioski compared to five for Saiz, who is occupying the corridor on the edge of the opposition’s box. Alioski has three goals to his name and should arguably boast more.
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Bielsa described Saiz’s record in the Championship as a “deficit” but pointed to the complexity of the midfielder’s role and the responsibility he was taking on in a pressurised area of the pitch. United’s head coach noted that after Saiz’s substitution at Hull City on Tuesday, Leeds struggled to piece together any telling attacks.
“Saiz hasn't scored a goal so far and we can see that is a deficit but he’s a player with a lot of influence in building our offensive actions,” Bielsa said. “Among our midfielders he assumes the role of being the fourth offensive player in our team and he also receives the first pass in the most difficult zones on the pitch.
“For example, at the end of the game (at Hull) when he wasn’t on the pitch it was hard for us to bring the ball into the opponent's half. We couldn’t build attacks without him. That would have been a relief from our defensive duty.
“Sometimes we see in a player things that he doesn’t do. We don't pay enough attention to the things he allows his team-mates to do.”