Graeme Souness casts doubt over Leeds United fans' ongoing loyalty to Marcelo Bielsa after Arsenal defeat

Sky Sports pundit Graeme Souness questioned Leeds United fans' tolerance of Marcelo Bielsa's preference for style over results after the Whites fell to yet another heavy Premier League defeat on Saturday.

By Flora Snelson
Sunday, 19th December 2021, 11:22 am

With a makeshift defence and a bench full of teenagers, Bielsa’s injury-hit side fell to a 4-1 defeat against Arsenal at Elland Road.

With nine players unavailable through injury and illness, Bielsa handed Premier League debuts to academy players Sam Greenwood and Liam McCarron and included 15-year-old Archie Gray on his bench, which had an average age of 18 years old.

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The Gunners took advantage of a weak first-half performance by the home side, with Gabriel Martinelli bagging a brace inside thirty minutes before Bukayo Saka’s deflected strike sent Mikel Arteta’s side into the break with a three-goal lead.

There was hope for the hosts when former Leeds man Ben White felled Joe Gelhardt in the box on 75 minutes, but Raphinha’s spot-kick conversion wasn’t enough to ignite a fightback for the Whites, who conceded once more as substitute Emile Smith-Rowe struck a first-time volley in the final ten minutes.

The result marked a third consecutive defeat for relegation-threatened Leeds after losing 3-2 to Chelsea last weekend and taking a 7-0 pasting at Manchester City on Tuesday.

When analysing the game after the final whistle, Souness questioned Bielsa's commitment to an all-attacking style in the face of quality opponents.

Graeme Souness. Pic: Alex Burstow.

Leeds United play a brand of football - I admit it, I said it last year, they’re a good watch - which means they can always possibly get turned over big style by the bigger teams," Souness said.

“I want to ask Mr Bielsa that question ‘what’s more important to you, is it the style of football you want to play, and being on the front foot - that’s really admirable - or is it winning football matches?

“And I think I know the answer, I think what’s more important to this man is how we play.”

On Saturday, the Elland Road faithful were vocal in support of the Whites and their manager, continuing to sing after the defeat had been sealed. But Souness believes the fans’ tolerance for poor results won’t last.

Luke Ayling on the ball during Leeds United's 4-1 defeat to Arsenal. Pic: Naomi Baker.

“For me, they’re being coached in a way where it’s all about front-foot football, which is admirable, and it will get you on the edge of your seat and will be acceptable," Souness said.

“But I’m not sure how long supporters will accept that if you keep getting beaten 4-1 at home.

“I would suggest [Bielsa] has had nine previous jobs, he’s stayed for two years on average, this is the longest club side he’s ever managed, and that would suggest that wherever he’s been in the past, the supporters at those clubs weren’t entirely happy with watching the team play very exciting football but getting beat a lot.

“Leeds are new to the Premier League, second year in Premier League, will he continue for the next three or four years? I don’t think he will, I don't think anyone’s supporters will.”

Leeds United's Cody Drameh puts pressure on Arsenal goalscorer Gabriel Martinelli. Pic: Naomi Baker.

In his post-match analysis, Souness singled out decisions made by Cody Drameh and Luke Ayling which contributed to Arsenal’s first and third goals. The ex-Liverpool player suggested that Leeds' players lack the quality required to execute Bielsa’s preferred style.

“He deserves great credit, because a lot of these players are Championship players and he’s made them Premier League players and those players have a great deal to thank him for,” Souness said.

“I just worry that you’re asking players who are not good enough to play like Barcelona from 10 - 12 years ago.

“He’s not alone in that - a lot of coaches are asking players at the back, who don’t like taking the ball at the 18-yard line under pressure, they’re being asked to play it out from the back - but he takes it to another level.”

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