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.

Leeds get lucky for once as controversial goal earns a late point with Forest

Kemar Roofe scores “Hand Ball” Goal:

Leeds dominated the possession and produced the most dangerous of the relatively small number of goal scoring chances at Elland Road on Saturday evening. The away side took an early lead from a corner kick as Jack Robinson outmuscled Stuart Dallas and directed his header past Bailey Peacock-Farrell. It was yet another poor goal for Leeds to concede from a set piece. Leeds lost at Blackburn due to some awful man marking which allowed the Lancashire side to score from two corners. Leeds amassed an impressive 71% possession throughout the game and finally forced a deserved equaliser with eight minutes remaining.

Kemar Roofe’s hand directed the ball into the net to give Leeds a share of the spoils. It was fairly evident that it was handball and I’m surprised that the linesman didn’t see it. In fairness to the Leeds forward, he admitted that he handled the ball and did not try to deflect away from the truth. An injury time Pablo Hernandez back heel was inches away from securing the three points for Leeds. Marcelo Bielsa’s men showed passion and grit to get a something from the match. Leeds stay second in the table and face two tricky away games in the next few weeks.

Lack of Clinical Edge Costs Leeds Yet Again:

This season’s Championship possesses at least ten clubs with a genuine chance of promotion to the Premier League. There is no clear favourite to run away with the league like Wolves did last season. Leeds play the best football but currently have two major flaws – defending set pieces and a lack of cutting edge in the striking department. Leeds amassed 18 shots against a well organised but limited Nottingham Forest side, but only three of these shots were on target. The Forest goalkeeper Costel Pantillimon was forced into one real save of note when he pushed Pablo Hernadez’s deflected shot for a first-half corner.

The young Leeds substitute Jack Clarke provided the much-needed pace that the Leeds attack was missing. The 17-year-old winger whipped a fantastic low ball across the Forest five-yard box which should have been a tap-in for any of the Leeds attackers. I maintain the view that if Leeds had Chris Wood or Dwight Gayle that they would be five or six points clear at the top of the table. I find it cruelly ironic that when the club finally finds a  quality management team who plays attacking football, we lack the number nine in the vain of Chris Wood or Jermaine Beckford. Teams with goal scorers get promoted from the Championship, and I am worried that Leeds don’t possess enough quality attackers to convert the number of chances created.

There are some mitigating issues which if remedied could improve the conversion rate for Leeds. The injuries to Pablo Hernandez and Kemar Roofe derailed the fantastic start to the season. The long-term injury to Patrick Bamford has showcased the lack of attackers in the squad. Tyler Roberts has performed well but he is still learning, and the pressure of leading the line has proved tough. The most pressing issue facing Marcelo Bielsa is that the better opposition managers have decided to let Leeds keep the ball, but crucially are forcing most passes sideways. The early season wins were built on Leeds finding their attacking playmakers in between the lines of the opposition defence and midfield. The away demolition of Derby was a prime example of this as Samu Saiz, and Mateusz Klich continually found space which also freed up Kemar Roofe. Aitor Karanaka set up Nottingham Forest with a strong central spine and forced the Leeds midfield to pass to the side or backwards. The forward passes to Kemar Roofe were poor and holding the ball up front is not his greatest asset. Roofe needs to play on the shoulder of the opposition defenders. Leeds lack real electric pace in the wide areas and the standard of crosses into the box has been quite simply dire. Jack Clarke seems to have the electric sidestep and can drop his shoulder and beat his man. Marcelo Bielsa has stated that his team need many chances to score and that this is a problem that they are trying to rectify.

The Leeds defence has rarely been troubled from open play so far this season. The high percentage of possession means that Leeds can focus on building attacks from the back. The past few games have shown that defending from set pieces needs to improve quickly. The concession of goals from set pieces is putting pressure on the Leeds attack which does not convert enough of its chances.

With all these issues, Leeds are still second in the table. There is plenty to build on going forward. The away game at Wigan on Sunday offers a chance for the team to prove the moaners like me wrong. I hope they can get back to their early season form. A clean sheet on Sunday will get Leeds the three points.