Marcelo Bielsa's plan and repetition take Leeds United to Premier League doorstep - Graham Smyth's Verdict

Yorkshire Evening Post chief football writer Graham Smyth casts his verdict on a dramatic win for Leeds United.

Monday, 13th July 2020, 6:00 am
Leeds United celebrate at full-time at the Liberty Stadium.

Repetition has been the key for Leeds United in their second go at the Championship under Marcelo Bielsa and it played a huge part in a win at Swansea City that leaves them on the very doorstep of the Premier League.

Pablo Hernandez, of course, came up with an 89th-minute winner that was pure drama, in a season full of it, against his former club and its significance was seen in the celebrations.

The coaching staff, the substitutes, every player on the pitch, their joy betrayed the importance they attached to this game and its result.

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Bielsa, of course, wasn’t involved in any wild touchline jigs or knee slides onto the pitch, because he isn’t enjoying it. He cannot enjoy it. Not until it’s done.

The bid to make 2019/20 the club’s last season in the Championship was centred around Plan A from the very start. The same plan that very nearly, but heartbreakingly didn’t work in 2018/29, but done better.

Almost exactly the same squad, with a few additions, doing the same things but doing them better.

With three games remaining, they need just four points to prove once and for all that they had the right man with the right plan all along, that they just needed to do it better.

Promotion would prove more than that, of course, it would prove that this squad do have the necessary quality and character to supplement their obvious quality and tactical obedience.

Yet with Brentford on an almost inconceivably good run of form, winning every single game since the restart, the pressure and the tension will remain unbearable until the very moment the prize is obtained.

The Liberty Stadium was as noisy as a near-empty stadium can be, for around 75 minutes of this vital fixture. Leeds director of football Victor Orta and head coach Bielsa filled the air with impassioned pleas and encouragement.

Much of Bielsa’s output was simply a request for more. More of the same. And when the winner came, from a Luke Ayling cut back, it was exactly that. It was more of what Leeds have done ever since Bielsa got his hands on them.

The first half did little to ease the frayed nerves of a club teetering on the edge of history.

Having spent the first quarter of an hour spectating and contemplating on his bucket or his haunches, Bielsa watched his side struggle to build attacks with fluency or frequency and come under some pressure themselves from a Swansea looking to profit from the many set-pieces they were winning.

Bielsa’s vocal interjections began and only ever seemed to increase in volume and regularity.

He wanted more movement from his attackers, who simply couldn’t get into the game for long periods. Ayling would get the ball on halfway, right at the touchline, look up and see white shirts in close proximity to him and anyone he might like to pass to.

Several attempts to find Tyler Roberts came to nought. Roberts, reminded constantly throughout the first half to move, made one lovely run towards a rare patch of space in the final third, just before half-time, yet Ayling attempted a switch instead, unsuccessfully. It wasn’t quite clicking.

Mateusz Klich wasn’t really in the game, Jack Harrison was quiet by his usual standards and Helder Costa had a couple of runs but little else to write home about.

The free-kick count was mounting, Swansea were drawing fouls cleverly and Leeds fell for it too often, white shirts falling to the floor and breaking up the game, robbing the Whites of any momentum or rhythm.

Going down the tunnel at half-time with just a well-saved Patrick Bamford shot, on his weaker foot, from a ball that bounced into his path with a large measure of luck, Leeds looked frustrated.

Bielsa, unsurprisingly, turned once again to Pablo Hernandez and Gjanni Alioski, two men who have come on to great effect during the run-in.

They replaced Stuart Dallas, who played left-back when Leeds had the ball and tracked Jay Fulton in midfield when they didn’t, and Roberts. The plan didn’t change, just the personnel carrying it out.

Hernandez started popping up on the right, always in just enough space to operate and manoeuvre, allowing Leeds to gain ground.

They began to look more ominous and, while there still wasn’t a plethora of chances and an abundance of thrills, there was an intensity to the game.

Swansea still possessed a threat, Conor Gallagher’s rasping shot that Illan Meslier did well to tip over, was a reminder of that.

But the Swans did begin to retreat and Leeds began to dictate. When Hernandez got the ball, Ayling would bomb on towards the right corner flag and that looked Leeds’ most promising avenue to explore.

Their next big chance came from the left, however. Hernandez was still involved, spotting the run of Harrison and finding him, the winger volleying the ball across goal to Bamford, who should have headed home but saw his effort palmed out by Freddie Woodman.

The drinks break threatened to thwart Leeds’ attempts to introduce a rhythm and a pattern to the game but they still had the best of it when play resumed, a pair of offside flags halting dangerous counter attacks.

Hernandez found Harrison again, he fired over and Bielsa paced up and down his technical area.

A Bamford dummy, Alioski’s pass through legs, a touch from Klich and a shot off target by Hernandez had the head coach pacing again.

Then, in a move Leeds fans have grown so accustomed to seeing, Ayling reached the byline and pulled the ball back to the very man you would put your shirt on, from eight yards.

Hernandez did the rest, taking a touch and squeezing a shot beyond Woodman’s hand into a space not a great deal bigger than a football.

He raced off, his shirt came off and, for all but Bielsa, it was embraces and pile ons and joy unconfined.

With 89 minutes on the clock, there were always going to be more nervous moments and the sight of goalkeeper Erwin Mulder, Swansea’s replacement for the injured Woodman, rushing upfield for a corner, threatened to bring drama of the unwelcome kind.

Meslier’s Superman impression, through a crowd, cleared the ball and the danger and not long after that the game was over.

The promotion race isn’t, not yet. But Leeds have a man with a plan and it’s all coming together quite nicely.