What Marcelo Bielsa asked for and what he got from Leeds United and fans against Wolves - Graham Smyth's Verdict

Marcelo Bielsa's record of getting what he wants from Leeds United players speaks for itself, as does their record of delivering, but Saturday's reminder was timely.

Sunday, 24th October 2021, 4:44 am
FRUSTRATION RELEASED - Rodrigo put all his feeling into the celebrations of his and Leeds United's goal against Wolves at Elland Road. Pic: Bruce Rollinson

The Whites embodied perfectly everything he had been trying to transmit to them all week, in their 1-1 draw with Wolves, and they needed to.

It wasn't just the particular scenario playing out in this game that called for it, but the difficult start to the season they have endured.

And it was a happy coincidence that the Argentine's summation of the message he wanted to relay to the squad, in a 'very sad week' following the dismal showing at Southampton, was an apt description of this performance.

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"Commitment and not indifference, responsibility and not passing over your responsibilities, hope and faith before disappointment," he said on Thursday.

On Saturday, still missing the talismanic Kalvin Phillips from the starting XI, still without Luke Ayling, Junior Firpo and Patrick Bamford, the challenge facing them was great enough, even before Raphinha went off injured nine minutes into the second half.

Leeds' best player of the first half , the Brazilian departed after Romain Saïss' raised boot connected with his ankle.

Undeservedly a goal down since the 10th minute and facing time wasting tactics from a remarkably early stage, Leeds had the look of a side who were either going to crumble under the weight of their frustration or be propelled by it.

The sight of medical staff helping Raphinha down the tunnel could easily have left everyone fearing the worst and living it out, and for a moment or two in the wake of his departure there was a little wobble.

But instead of falling apart, adversity brought the best out of the crowd and they in turn further inspired a comeback.

Leeds grasped the nettle of responsibility and as countless attacks ended in disappointment they continued to believe.

The pre-game intrigue over who Bielsa would play at 10, having made one change to the side and replaced Tyler Roberts with Raphinha, soon gave way to the now traditional buzz that accompanies the winger's first touch, which was taken in his traditional position.

Instead, Rodrigo played behind Daniel James, the Welsh winger ploughing an earnest but largely fruitless furrow up top in the first half.

At Southampton it was obvious from the off that Leeds were not right. At Elland Road it was evident long before the five minute mark that this would not be a repeat of that performance.

They created moments of danger in a bright opening, finding their wingers and switching play well.

Then Wolves scored.

Liam Cooper came for a diagonal ball and then didn't, Nélson Semedo skinned Jack Harrison and found Raúl Jiménez, his shot deflecting cruelly into the path of the unmarked Hwang Hee-Chan for a simple finish.

Luck was not on Leeds side, but that's not something they can ever control. What they could control was their response - hope and faith over disappointment - and it was a good one.

When things are going awry, sticking to the gameplan is vital and Leeds did that. Diego Llorente pinged the ball superbly out to Harrison and he trapped it dead. The move didn't really go anywhere but it was so familiar to Leeds fans that it provided comfort. This was not a team panicking.

In an open game, it was obvious that chances would come but as time went on it appeared less and less likely that they would come at both ends thanks to the way in which Leeds dealt with Wolves' threats.

Adama Traoré was well handled by Stuart Dallas and Cooper, the veterans adding fight and nous to the class Llorente, Raphinha and Rodrigo were trying to bring to the game.

Even if they weren't looking after the ball as well as they'd like, they were winning it back regularly and being on the front foot suited them, Raphinha springing forward to suddenly press and win a ball he had no real claim to, running hard at the defence and curling a shot-cum-cross wide of the far post.

The theatrics of Jiménez did little to impress referee Robert Jones but did provide further fuel for an already noisy Elland Road and further ticked off an already frustrated home team. Raphinha was getting increasingly het up and taking it upon himself to do more and more, completing seven first half dribbles but unable to beat Wolves all on his own.

Carelessness elsewhere had crept in to halt momentum and Bielsa acted at the break, sending on Roberts for Harrison.

When, nine minutes later, Raphinha went off injured, it became a huge test of character. Who, in his absence, was going to take responsibility?

The body language was good, players wanted the ball, in tight positions, and tried to make something happen.

Crysencio Summerville, on for Raphinha, had a go on one flank, while Dallas grew in influence on the other. Rodrigo was dropping in and taking on more work and James finally started to show himself, a nice run ending in a cross that was just nicked away from Summerville.

The crowd, too, sensed the need for a bigger contribution and the noise they created was a mixture of urgency, defiance and belief.

Dallas surged again, played in Rodrigo and he was eased to the ground by Maximilian Kilman, legally in the eyes of Jones.

Joe Gelhardt was sent on for Klich and took his time to settle but once he did, with a fierce shot that José Sá brilliantly palmed over, he visibly underwent a sort of awakening.

Amid the noise and the tension, it dawned on the 19-year-old that he can do the things he does so well for the Under 23s very well against Premier League defenders. A ball dropped to him near the edge of the area and he took on all comers with a dribble that owed as much to his strength as his quick feet.

Wolves were hanging on, using all of the dark arts to do so, and Leeds just kept coming as the minutes kept ticking away. Visitor time wasting produced six minutes after the 90 and it took four of them for a deserved equaliser to arrive.

Gelhardt made it, spinning to find space, driving to the area and not stopping until he was impeded by Semedo. Jones took his time, made up his mind and pointed to the spot, Rodrigo took responsibility and sent Sá the wrong way. Every ounce of frustration felt by the Spaniard this season went into his celebration, a snapped corner flag evidence of what the goal meant and how it felt. It was scored in Leeds and heard as far away as Oslo, a delighted Whites fan visited by police after reports of screams.

With Wolves visibly deflated and Elland Road rocking, Gelhardt went again, this run ending in a shot that was deflected just wide.

There was no winner, this was not perfection, but Bielsa got everything else he had asked for. His desire was that the players would feel as he did, that they would find defeat just as intolerable. Their response was to be fully committed and take full responsibility. The season is still difficult, a point changes little in that regard, but the performance might just be a transformative one. At the very least, on this evidence, hope and faith abide.