Why Marcelo Bielsa expects Leeds United's defensive absentees to beat attackers in fitness race

Marcelo Bielsa’s defensive absentees will return to match fitness more quickly than their attacking counterparts.

By Graham Smyth
Tuesday, 18th January 2022, 5:16 pm

Leeds were able to welcome back Pascal Struijk at West Ham United on Sunday after eight games out through a foot injury and Rodrigo also made his comeback from a seven-game absence.

Struijk, though, was able to start the game and played 90 minutes, giving Hammers dangerman Michail Antonio a difficult afternoon, while Rodrigo had to be saved for the second half.

The length of time Struijk spent out and the fact that he didn’t play any Under-23s football before being thrown straight into a Premier League battle at the London Stadium spoke volumes for him said Bielsa.

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INJURIES UPDATE: From Leeds United boss Marcelo Bielsa, pictured during Sunday's superb 3-2 victory at West Ham United. Photo by Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images.

But as the head coach explained, defensive players are better equipped to return with something akin to their top form than attackers.

That’s why Bielsa anticipates Liam Cooper and Kalvin Phillips getting back into the swing of things sooner, relatively speaking, than his attackers.

“That increased how much you value [Struijk’s] performance,” said Bielsa.

“Pascal confirmed that he does everything he does every time he plays.

"There’s players like Pascal and Cooper, like [Robin] Koch, they can get close to their best version quickly, and there’s players, especially those creative ones, who need a little bit more time to be able to impose their virtues.

“For the defenders, the defensive midfielders, that match fitness they acquire a lot more quickly.

"The players out wide, those in the middle, the creative ones - it takes a bit more time. That’s why the return of [Patrick] Bamford, Tyler, Rodrigo and [Joe] Gelhardt will take a bit longer than Cooper, Phillips, Koch etc.”

Bamford wasn’t risked for the second successive trip to West Ham as he overcomes a hamstring problem and subsequent issue picked up in training ahead of the club’s FA Cup third-round tie.

“He hasn’t re-injured himself,” said Bielsa, “but we thought it would be pre-mature that he came back.”

He added: “For example, Rodrigo coming on [as a substitute] is also linked to the fact that he hasn’t competed for a very long time and, if he had come on in the first half, the game would have been too long for him.

“That’s why we split the time between him and [Lewis] Bate, because one thing is to be healthy, and another is to be on form.”

Bielsa will have two fresh injury concerns to update fans on when he sits down with the media on Thursday to discuss the Elland Road visit of Newcastle United.

Adam Forshaw and Junior Firpo both went off holding their hamstrings in Leeds’ win at West Ham.

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