Reputable Argentine bringing feel-good factor back to Elland Road as Whites occupy top spot
By Brad Patefield
It’s a style of play which many a Leeds United supporter would be far from used to. But under Marcelo Bielsa, Leeds United seem to finally be on that path back to the promised land of the Premier League.
One defeat in eight Championship games has seen United soar to the summit, making a number of statements along the way. Whites fans will undoubtedly air on the side of cautiousness when jumping on the promotion bandwagon at this stage of the campaign, as previous positive starts have often fallen far off the mark.
The 2017/18 season saw United on 17 points with just the one defeat at the same point a year ago under Thomas Christiansen; a start which failed to materialise into success, as only three points in October would spell the beginning of the end for the Cypriot coach.
Themes of disappointment began under Christiansen’s predecessor, Garry Monk- the man who’s Birmingham side were the first Club to defeat Leeds in league competition so far this term. A fantastic start lasted through to April until a late slump cost their place in the play-offs, which the Elland Road faithful are no strangers to.
Both Simon Grayson and Neil Warnock led the Club to top-half positions ahead of match-day eight in 2010 and 2012, falling short of the top six come the end of the season on both occasions.
In the well-travelled Argentine, there may well be a new messiah in LS11. The nation watched as Bielsa’s troops dazzled their opponents from week one with a high intensity pressing game and a frighteningly quick tempo going forward.
Both Christiansen and Monk’s way of playing thoroughly entertained, but those ideologies hardly live up to the tactile approach a wily, experienced Bielsa possesses in the dugout. Energetic from the whistle, hounding opposition out of time and space, breaking forward in numbers. A style to which United’s considerable fanbase display their utmost appreciation to a man who’s recommendations rain down from even the most successful of managers in Pep Guardiola.
The Yorkshire Post’s Richard Sutcliffe compared Bielsa’s work to a near miracle.
“He’s so far pulled off the footballing equivalent of turning water into wine by transforming what is effectively last season’s under-achieving squad into a team that looks genuinely capable of challenging for promotion.”
The thought of whether the failures of past campaigns can finally be put to rest is a question that many will be intrigued to witness the answer to as a tough run of games determines whether or not the credentials are true to word.
“Whether Leeds can maintain the work-rate Bielsa demands remains to be seen. A glance at his career shows teams who start the season in style do tend to lose their way after Christmas, as injuries and fatigue catch up with them”.
Recently relegated Stoke City and fellow high-flyers Derby both fell victim to the newly-acclaimed ‘Bielsaball’- a tactic which has been executed to a tee by a squad consisting of largely the same group as last season’s 13th placed finishers. Not only that, but United showed defiant characteristics to fight to the death, securing a 1-1 draw at rivals Millwall in the fading seconds- another factor in how Bielsa’s Leeds identity differs from the faltering efforts of those before.
Bielsa’s arrival and recent tactical masterclasses are a joy to behold, Bradford Whites supporter group member Adam Whittaker explained.
“Appointing Bielsa was a big step forward us as a Club. For too many years now we’ve just missed out, and I with the squad we have and the performances so far, we can put an end to our inconsistency when pushing for the top and maintain a high level of performance throughout the duration of the season.”
£7 million man Patrick Bamford has found opportunities limited down to the electric form of Kemar Roofe, but left-back Barry Douglas- a £3 million summer acquisition from Wolves- slots right in to a system which has drawn widespread plaudits.
Renowned for masterminding similar forces in the European cities of Marseille and Bilbao, Bielsa perches on his bucket and isn’t afraid to chop and change in order to formulate the results that United need to cement that elevation to the top flight and rid the demons of seasons past.