Don’t panic, Mr. Bielsa!
Tuesday, 23rd Nov 2021 23:20 by Tim Whelan
Sunday’s defeat at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur was very hard to take after our excellent first half, but after the match Kalvin Phillips sought to assure is all that if we keep playing that well the results will come.
When our star midfielder spoke to the media he said “In the first half we played some good football, we played at our tempo and right at the end of the half got the goal and we went in at half time really confident. We knew Tottenham would come out in the second half wanting to press us and they did that well”.
“We couldn’t play our game the same as we did in the first half and we’re very disappointed. We are missing some very good and important players in our team, such as Luke Ayling, Patrick Bamford, Raphinha and Rodrigo. I’m not one to panic, the way we play football eventually we are going to stack up some points on the board. We’re a very fit team as well, the results will come, we just have to be more decisive in some areas of the game and concentrate a little bit more as well.”
The loss of Raphinha through illness was indeed another major blow we could have done without, but it did at least mean that Dan James could play as a winger, rather than being stuck in the centre out of position. And Tyler Roberts critics on social media will have been delighted that he began the game on the bench, with young Gelhardt getting his first start.
Despite his lack of experience, Gelhardt was keen to take responsibility and didn’t look out of place at all, though perhaps he is a bit small to be playing as the lone striker. At the other end Phillips was operating as an extra central defender, as Bielsa sought to counter Spurs dangerous pair of Kane and Son.
And Phillips was on hand when Spurs mounted their best move of the first half. The cross was played a little behind Kane, but Phillips still needed to block the shot from his England colleague. Apart from that we kept the deadly duo very quiet before the break as we dominated possession. Dallas and Forshaw were narrowly wide with shots from outside the area, but I thought that for all our pressure we didn’t carry much of a threat in front of goal.
That was until the 44th minute, when Harrison beat a couple of defenders on his way down the wing and whipped in a great cross, while James nipped in between two defenders to poke the ball home from close range. Spurs went off at half time to boos from their own fans, and the way they were playing I thought that goal might be enough to win the game.
But their new manager Antonio Conte must have given them a right stuffing during the interval, as they came out looking determined to get back into the game. Straight away Meslier had to push a shot from Kane onto the post, and a few minutes later a shot from Son was deflected onto the bar. We were still pressing forward when we could, and Gelhardt forced Lloris into a couple of saves, but the home side grabbed the equaliser in the 58th minute.
As the ball fell to More on the edge of the six yard box, Meslier was guilty of following him for a little too long as the Brazilian moved away from the goal, which meant that he was out of position when More played the ball back across the area. Hojbjerg placed his shot into the far corner, and Meslier just failed to get to it as he scrambled back across his goal. He would have reached it with a better starting position.
Bielsa responded to the setback by replacing Klich with Firpo, with Struijk moving from left back to central defence and Phillips going further forward. Perhaps Bielsa made the change because he thought we were getting overrun in midfield, but some fans on social media think we lost a bit of shape as a result. I’ll be kind and say Firpo deserves a bit of time to get back up to speed after his lay-off.
Spurs were able to complete their comeback by taking the lead in the 69th minute. A foul by Cooper just outside the area gave them a free kick in a dangerous position, and Dier’s effort took a deflection off the wall to leave Meslier wrong-footed. And when it came back off the post Reguilon reacted faster than any of our defenders to score from close range.
We know a Bielsa team will never give up, and for the rest of the game we went forward at every opportunity to look for the point our overall performance deserved. And we could have had a lifeline when there was a VAR check for handball against Kane in the area. But they ruled that it was ball to hand after it bounced off his thigh, so it was nothing doing.
In total we had four second half shots that were straight at Lloris, which might have been down to his good positioning, but was still very frustrating. Bielsa sent Roberts on for Forshaw in the hope of giving us more firepower, or perhaps because Forshaw was feeling the pace after his long lay-off, but the change predictably had little effect.
McKinstry made his debut in place of Gelhardt for the last few minutes, while Conte was becoming very irritating on the touchline, as we went into injury time and he tried to tell the linesman that time was up. In truth were unlucky that we had to play them for his first home game, as Spurs would probably have given up and accepted defeat if we’d gone there in the dying days of Santo’s reign.
A breakthrough never came for Leeds, and our short unbeaten run was over. After the game Marcello Bielsa said “Perhaps if we had drawn the game it would have been a prize for what we constructed in the first half. But, as the second half wore on, they increased the differences with regards to us.”
“Even with the absences we showed we could play how we wanted to, but not having been able to sustain it throughout the second half is a deficit. Our idea was to prevent the reaction that we imaged Tottenham would have. I saw that progressively we started losing the dominance of the game.
“I thought the two wings were controlled but their relationship with their two midfielders, we started to lose it. When those two players managed the ball, they improved how their forwards received the ball and it was a lot more difficult for us to defend.”
While Joe Gelhardt said “I think we were unlucky with the result. First half we were very good, and second half I think we just couldn’t soak up the pressure. I think they came out in the second half raring to go and put pressure on us, making it difficult for us to press them. So, we were sort of pinned in, couldn’t really get out and they just took advantage of that. But we’ll be looking to work hard and go again next week “
And assessing his own performance he said “It was a very good experience personally to make my full Premier League debut, starting at this stadium. It was hard in the first 20 minutes to get used to the pace of the game. I think after that I saw it as a normal game of football that I have been doing all my life. I have learnt so much in a year of being here, the intensity of training, the amount of technical and tactical information. Marcelo Bielsa has been very good to work under and you learn a lot from him.”
This result leaves us in a difficult position only two points above the dreaded 18th place after all the other teams near the bottom manged to pick up at least one point on Saturday. And we could do with at least four points from the Brighton and Brentford games, with such a horrendous run of fixtures to follow. But as Kalvin says, surely we won’t go down if we can keep producing performances of the quality we managed in the first half on Sunday.
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