International breaks tend to suit clubs who have injury crises or poor results behind them but a fortnight is a long time for Leeds United to stew on a bad night at West Bromwich Albion.
This is one occasion where the club would prefer to get back on the horse and wash away their heaviest defeat of the season.
Leeds have never looked so porous in Marcelo Bielsa’s time as head coach and a 4-1 loss at The Hawthorns was the club’s worst since the debacle against Cardiff City which cost Thomas Christiansen his job in February. Bielsa felt aggrieved with the scale of the defeat on Saturday but not the defeat itself, well aware that Leeds’ performance was asking for trouble.
His squad will lie dormant now until Bristol City’s visit to Elland Road on November 24 and the interlude for international matches gives him a chance to dissect the issues at The Hawthorns in detail: the wayward passing which invited an overwhelming number of counter-attacks, the conversion of 72 per cent of possession into just three shots on target – the last of them bringing a consolation from Pablo Hernandez in the 92nd minute – and the way in which individuals contributed to a heavy beating.
Hernandez’s performance was indicative of an evening when even the most influential of Bielsa’s players lost their touch.
The midfielder admitted that United’s defeat at West Brom was the sort of scoreline which demanded a quick and convincing response but said Leeds could benefit from time to address the game over the next two weeks.
“When you have two weeks off for the international break and if you come from a loss like this one then sometimes it’s not good,” Hernandez said.
“I think after a loss you want to play the next day because you want to win again.
“But now have time to prepare for the next game and also to watch this game again and watch our mistakes. We can try to prevent them in the next game. We’ve played with a high intensity for all the games and maybe this time for a rest, a little rest, is good for us.”
The intensity of Bielsa’s football and his obsession with dominating the possession, as Leeds did in spite of the scoreline at West Brom, are features which the clubs’s head coach will not abandon. Hernandez talked of the defeat “changing nothing in our mind or our style” and it would take an uncharacteristic wobble on the part of Bielsa for Saturday’s thrashing to alter his tactics.
The quality in West Brom’s squad is such that any side who prove as error-strewn as Leeds were at The Hawthorns will be prone to severe punishment. Albion have scored four times or more in five matches already and Leeds were guilty of losing possession 25 times, creating multiple transitional phases in which West Brom’s pace hurt them. Three of Albion’s goals came in that way.
“Obviously they came from the Premier League last year and they’re a big team,” Hernandez said. “They have good players up front and good attackers.
“We knew it was an important game for us but it’s three points and all the games are the same. We need to think of every game as the same: to always try to play our football and to impose our style on the game.
“When you lose you need to keep calm and watch the mistakes.”
Leeds were hamstrung by a bad error from goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell at a point where West Brom were 1-0 ahead and the game remained in the balance. None of Bielsa’s post-match comments suggested that Peacock-Farrell’s position as first-choice would be under threat but Leeds will have limited time to work with him over the next 10 days with the 22-year-old away with Northern Ireland for matches against the Republic of Ireland and Austria.
Elsewhere in his line-up, Bielsa has issues. Stuart Dallas – in at right wing-back in the absence of the injured Luke Ayling – struggled with his positioning at West Brom and was exploited defensively.
Bielsa previously experimented with Jamie Shackleton in that role.
Samuel Saiz lost his place after the last international break and while Leeds coped comfortably without him in a 2-1 win at Wigan Athletic, their creativity was lacking against more dangerous opposition in West Brom and Nottingham Forest. Saiz came off the bench with 12 minutes to play at The Hawthorns and set up Hernandez’s injury-time goal.
His recall against Bristol City will be on Bielsa’s mind but United’s boss is unlikely to allow his knee to jerk after a third defeat in 17 matches.
What has become clear is a trend of Leeds benefiting significantly from scoring first and taking control.
Bielsa’s side have drawn first blood in seven matches and taken 21 points from them. In the 10 fixtures where United conceded the opening goal, they earned just nine. As Bielsa’s focus on possession suggests, his side has been built to run games rather than chase them and they were wide open in the final 10 minutes on Saturday as West Brom scored twice late on to establish a 4-0 lead.
“We know that we didn’t have our best day,” Hernandez said, “but this is one game and we can do nothing to change the result.
“What we can do, the one thing, is to continue working, work more and come back with a win in the next game.”