Bielsa’s Leeds show enormous mental fortitude to grab the win at Bramall Lane

Nine points in seven days:

In the 60th minute of yesterday’s victory, I tweeted that Leeds needed to show immense mental strength to ensure that at least a point be taken back to Elland Road. The 4-1 hammering at West Brom was scoreless seven minutes into the second half. The resulting capitulation might turn out to be the best thing that could happen to the players, management and fans. The players had 71% possession at the Hawthorns. However, they were anaemic in attack and lacked the intense pressing which has been the cornerstone of the Bielsaball revolution. The half-time introduction of the pacy Jack Clarke allowed Leeds to continually press the Sheffield United players for the majority of the second half. Pablo Hernandez’s winning goal was the product of the high pressing gameplan. The Leeds players showed a considerable amount of grit which was severely lacking against the Baggies. The scrappy one nil win showed that Leeds do not need to play blistering possession-based football to win. Leeds ended the game with only 39% possession which is a season low. Marcelo Bielsa and his backroom staff have naturally adapted their gameplan in the last few weeks. Leeds are producing more shot on and more importantly more attempts on target. The win over the Blades will not be remembered for the spectacle of football but could witness the turning point for the Leeds team regarding the belief that they can seriously mount a title push into May. Fans like myself now must have more confidence that the squad have the guts to keep the fantastic start of the season going.

The kids are alright:

The belief that Marcelo Bielsa shows in his young players is so refreshing to see. In fairness, Leeds have produced a prolific number of young stars in the past three decades. Jack Clare, Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Aapo Halme and Jamie Shackleton have been extremely impressive so far this season. Mistakes will happen for all players, and each of the young players has made a few errors. The fact that the young stars have bounced back is in my opinion remarkable. The loss of captain Liam Cooper could have derailed the match yesterday, but the young Finnish centre-back Aapo Halme showed great composure. Bailey Peacock-Farrell still has much to learn, and he was targeted from set pieces yesterday. The Northern Irish number one will continue to get better, and he is already an excellent shot-stopper. Jack Clarke has the pace that his fellow wingers do not possess. The blonde youngster gets better with each performance. The calm maturity he showed to assist in the winning goal was brilliant to see. I fully expect that Clarke will be in the starting eleven against QPR next Saturday.

Returning players:

The next six games for Leeds are not that daunting. The away trips to Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest represent the toughest fixtures in my opinion. Liam Cooper could be injured for an extended period which is alarming. The assured performances of the Aapo Halme in the past week will lessen the potential loss of the Leeds captain. Izzy Brown and Parick Bamford returned to play with the under 23’s at Newcastle during the week. Both these young players could represent two new signings for Leeds. I hope Leeds can get another striker in January. I firmly believe it’s necessary that Leeds sign another quality striker. It will be tough to rely on both Bamford and Roofe for the remainder of the season considering their recent injury records. We move onto QPR at Elland Road on Saturday. I think it’s fair to assume that Leeds will be hopeful of another home win. It will be a tough game, but if Leeds can keep another clean sheet, they will take the three points.

A look at Leeds average attacking stats & injury news ahead of the Wigan game

Lack of Killer Instinct:

It is my firm belief that Leeds would be at least five points clear if they had a goalscoring number nine. Kemar Roofe’s injury was cruel as it came just a few days after the long-term loss of Patrick Bamford. Leeds have scored 26 goals so far in the league which equates to a goal every 52 minutes and 1.73 goals per game. Defensive errors have been extremely costly and have put pressure on the attackers to be more clinical in front of goal. If Leeds can increase the average goals scored per game up nearer to 2, then they will be in a fantastic position to return to the overhyped Sky Sports funded Premier League.  To improve the level of accuracy in front of goal the management will no doubt be looking at the shots on target percentage. Leeds amassed an impressive 18 attempts on the Forest goal last week, but worryingly only three were on target.  The low number of shots on target is a damning statistic which shows why the team are not clear at the top of the league. So far this season, Leeds have averaged 14.87 attempts on goal. 5.47 of the number of attempts have been on target whereas 9.4 of the efforts have been off target. The average number of shots off target is twice as many as the shots on target. The two number need to flip if Leeds are to continue in the automatic promotion places.

A Tale of Two Full Backs:

There was some contrasting news from Marcelo Bielsa’s news conference on Friday. There was more bad news that Gaetano Berardi would join Luke Ayling for an extended period on the sidelines. The timely return of Barry Douglas to the squad for the Wigan game was a significant boost as Leeds have missed his set-piece delivery, and marauding left wing runs in the past few games. Northern Ireland international Stuart Dallas will likely start at right back against the Latics. The Argentine tactician is a big fan of the former Brentford player which will dismay his many detractors on social media. I for one think he offers depth to the squad, however, the fact that the large number of recent Leeds managers continually deploy him in different positions all over the pitch, rarely gives him a chance to build up a decent run of form. The loss of Ayling is huge both on both sides of the ball. The ponytailed assassin offers the great defensive cover while he is a constant danger to the opposition on the overlap. Jamie Shackleton should be due for some more game time in the next few months which should provide the Leeds fans with a new homegrown hero.

What Will Happen at The DW Stadium:

I have never in my lifetime witnessed a Leeds team dominate the possession as much as this team does on a weekly basis. Leeds are averaging over 57% possession in the league so far this season. The poor defensive errors and the unfortunate injury record have seen Leeds stay close to the dozen or so teams looking to secure promotion. The awful defending from set pieces in recent games will need to improve vastly against Wigan. Leeds need to score a minimum of 2 goals to win most games so the main question is can they return to the ruthless form of August and September. Kemar Roofe’s goals have been invaluable, and he will likely be our biggest goal-scoring threat. Samu Saiz record in front of goal is abysmal, and he owes the team a substantial attacking performance this Sunday. I think Leeds will win 3-1 and as usual, they will control the game. If they can score first, they will most likely win. A fast start and no defensive gifts to the home side should secure a much needed away win.