Marcelo Bielsa runs through Leeds United's striking options but Patrick Bamford boots proving big ones to fill

It wasn’t particularly pretty.

By Lee Sobot
Monday, 1st November 2021, 11:30 am

But, ultimately, it was job done as Leeds United’s class shone through at Carrow Road, class that ought to fire the Whites farther up the Premier League table.

All that matters is that Marcelo Bielsa’s side ensure there are three sides below them when the season ends, Burnley now joining Newcastle United and Norwich below the dreaded dotted line although Watford are actually second favourites to go down, the Magpies only fourth favourites with the likelihood of a January splurge in mind.

But, immediately speaking, a key issue for Leeds surrounds their front line and who leads it in the absence of Whites No 9 Patrick Bamford through an ankle injury.

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DIFFERENT ROLE: Leeds United winger Jack Harrison, left, started Sunday's clash at Norwich City in the no 9 role but was soon moved back out wide. Picture by Simon Hulme.

Quite when Bamford returns remains to be seen, Bielsa saying at Friday’s pre-Norwich City press conference that a timescale for the returns of both Bamford and Luke Ayling could not be calculated exactly.

“They are all subject to their evolution and they have a margin for their recovery that is very flexible and very big,” said United’s head coach.

Bamford has now missed United’s last seven games and Bielsa has tried a variety of options up front during his absence.

The upshot is that none of those options has been as effective as Bamford which is no slight on those trying to fill his place

Bamford is now an England international who finished last season as the division’s second-highest scoring Englishman and joint fourth in the Golden Boot race.

His superb hold-up play and incredible workrate is perfect for Bielsa and the way Leeds play.

The sooner he is back the better. Leeds need their best players and Bamford is unquestionably one of them.

But, without him, Bielsa has now looked at various different options in the No 9 role and tried four of them in Sunday’s victory at Carrow Road.

Even then, it might well be that the fifth option proves to be the best of them but United’s head coach is clearly intent on taking a gradual process with 19-year-old star Joe Gelhardt

The England youth international excelled on his Elland-Road debut against Wolves the previous weekend after being brought on for Mateusz Klich two minutes after the hour as part of a positional reshuffle.

Bielsa was then quizzed about the chances of Gelhardt starting and admitted the question was not a simple one to answer.

The immediate answer at Carrow Road proved leaving Gelhardt on the bench as Raphinha, Dan James, Rodrigo and Jack Harrison all started, filling the four positions in the front line.

James was deployed as the No 9 in the first half against Wolves but managed just nine touches of the ball and, after Tyler Roberts was pushed up after the break, Gelhardt proved the best answer against Wolves.

Bielsa then looked to something different again at Carrow Road as Harrison lined up as United’s No 9, allowing Rodrigo to fill the No 10 position as James and Raphinha filled the wide spots.

Harrison put in his usual tireless running but Bielsa changed things midway through the first half as James was sent ‘up top’ and United then appeared to have both James and Rodrigo in centre-forward roles after the break.

That is when Leeds looked at their most effective although Norwich were basically undone by one moment of magic from class act Raphinha and a decent long-range effort from Rodrigo coupled with poor goalkeeping by Tim Krul.

Roberts then became the next player tried in a central attacking role when replacing Rodrigo in the 88th minute as United’s final change meaning ‘natural striker’ Gelhardt stayed on the bench.

Despite Bamford’s absence, Bielsa is evidently prepared to be patient with the teen star and it remains to be seen who is passed the centre-forward baton for next weekend’s hosting of Leicester City.

Of United’s current front four, Raphinha is the only one not to have had a go in the position but the Brazil star looks too good out wide to push centrally.

So will it be James, Harrison, Rodrigo or Roberts?

It’s a hard one to call and the best solution will be when Bamford returns or, potentially, when Gelhardt is let fully off the leash.

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Thank you Laura Collins