A defiant Marcelo Bielsa gave his Leeds United players a vote of confidence by revealing he would react to their first league defeat of the season with an unchanged line-up at Sheffield Wednesday on Friday.
Bielsa played his hand early and confirmed that his team at Hillsborough would remain as it was despite Leeds’ eight-match unbeaten start to the term ending against Birmingham City last weekend.
United were overcome in the Championship for the first time under Bielsa’s management as two early goals from Birmingham’s Che Adams condemned them to a 2-1 defeat at Elland Road.
Early problems in that game, including an error from goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell which allowed Adams to open the scoring, saw Bielsa substitute midfielder Kalvin Phillips after just 34 minutes, the second time this season when Phillips has been sacrificed before the interval.
Bielsa remains without several key players through injury, including midfielder Pablo Hernandez and forward Kemar Roofe, but he dismissed the possibility of revising his plans for Friday night’s televised derby in Sheffield.
“I won’t change any player,” Bielsa said. “You don’t react in the same way after a win as after a loss but after the game we lost we asked some questions together. We built our conclusions together.
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“We’ve had so far two training sessions where each player could express himself. The conclusions are positive ones and I have a lot of hope for Friday’s game.”
Bielsa blamed himself for picking the wrong formation against Birmingham, shielding his players from criticism, and he mounted a fresh defence of Phillips this afternoon having subjected the 22-year-old to an early withdrawal just a month after doing the same in a 2-2 draw at Swansea City.
Stuart Dallas was introduced from the bench in a move which led to a complete change of formation and Leeds dominated the remaining hour without negating Birmingham’s two-goal advantage,
“This does not draw the portrait of Kalvin,” Bielsa said. “It draws my own. If you deeply analyse the decision I took you will say I corrected a mistake I made.
“For me, it’s a very difficult situation. The last thing I want is to hurt a player as noble as Phillips because he’s very generous but I can’t make a mistake again.
“If I think the game is not well designed and I don’t take a solution, I make a double mistake. The first mistake is I made a mistake and then I wouldn’t dare to correct that mistake. I take the decisions I think are the best ones.
“We could say ‘poor Phillips’ but the people who understand football say ‘what a bad decision Bielsa took because he has to change after 30 minutes.’”
United’s head coach is also ready to keep faith with Peacock-Farrell, the youngster who has broken into the starting line-ups of both his club and Northern Ireland this season.
Peacock-Farrell looked off colour throughout the clash with Birmingham and Bielsa said: “He made a mistake for the first goal. This is in evidence. In the eight games before he played better than he played against Birmingham.”
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Leeds struggled to recover from their first league defeat at a similar stage of last season, dropping from the top of the Championship in September as a run of seven losses in nine matches wrecked their early momentum.
The club travel to Sheffield Wednesday at the top of the table again, in front of Middlesbrough on goal difference, and Bielsa brushed aside questions about the risk of another slump.
“It’s very difficult to make any comparison because I was not here last year,” he said. “I know what happened last year, I know what you are trying to underline, but I don’t think it’s good to compare both situations.
“A good idea is to resolve this situation right now. It’s not the best thing to predict that you’re going to have storms. We always try to be consciously optimistic and we have solid arguments to build optimism. We’ll have to show that on Friday.
“Whenever you lose you always want to win. If it’s a derby the willpower to win increases.”