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Bielsa admits to being worried after Anfield defeat
Friday, 25th Feb 2022 21:45 by Tim Whelan

Marcelo Bielsa is as worried as the rest of us in the wake of yet another heavy defeat, this time at the hands of Liverpool, but insists that he won’t walk out on the club and that his methods will keep us out of the bottom three at the end of the season.

In his weekly press conference the Argentine said that it’s not an option to abandon his commitment to attacking football, and claimed that "The style, the model has already shown that it can work in the Premier League. In moments like this when the confidence is lost in the leader, which is natural and logical, how can I defend myself with a team that has conceded the most goals in the Premier League?”

"In these four years, I have received criticisms or demands that are exactly the same. I daily try to resolve it. As I reiterate, when you are the conductor in a bad situation, nobody trusts in what you say. What I am also sure of is that, if I stop doing what I believe in, which is what you are asking me, the situation instead of improving is going to be even worse."

He was asked whether he is thinking of quitting before his contract expires at the end of the season, but said "The more adverse the situation is, the more I fortify myself to face it." And he insisted that the playing squad is still right behind him. "The effort and the willingness of the team can't be judged or doubted because they have been the most intense team in their performance in the Premier League across two years."

Leeds certainly made a bright start at Anfield, and could have been in front had a penalty decision gone in our favour, when Alison made a hash of dealing with a backpass and kicked the ball and then Dan James in quick succession. But the referee allowed the Liverpool keeper to get away with it, perhaps because James was honest enough to get back to his feet right away in the hope of scoring a goal.

Michael Oliver was less generous to Stuart Dallas a few minutes later, awarding a penalty against the Cookstown Cafu. It was clearly a case of ball to hand, even if Dallas’ arm was some distance out from the rest of his body. Liverpool scored a second penalty when Ayling ran into the back of Mane, though the unbiased LUTV commentary team thought the Liverpool man had played for it by slowing up in front of Ayling after over-running the ball.

In between the two spot kicks Liverpool’s other goal of the first half exposed the weakness of Bielsa’s man to man marking system. It leaves us vulnerable to players running through from deep as nobody takes responsibility for picking them up until it’s too late. The two goals from Aston Villa’s Ramsey a few weeks ago were prime examples, but the lesson wasn’t learned. This time it was the centre half Matip who was allowed to continue his run unchallenged, and he made us pay for it with a fine finish.

After we made our substitutions at half time and just after the hour mark we kept battling away, and were still only three down with ten minutes to go. It wasn’t until that point that our heads really dropped, and the defending for the last goal was the worst, with Van Dijk exploiting our familiar weakness at set pieces as he evaded his marker (Struijk) to score with a powerful header.

Liverpool’s late flurry means that we have now conceded two more goals from our 25 games so far than we did in the full 38 game programme last season. That sorry statistic has led many to suggest Bielsa to be a little less expansive against the better teams and to adopt a plan B and give up on the rigid man marking system. Is his stubborn refusal to either and instance on sticking to the same tactics beginning to cost Leeds dear?

The second season syndrome is a bit of a cliché, but by this stage we are no longer a surprise package, and rival managers have had plenty of time to work out what tactics they need to use against us. And there is always the nagging feeling that our injury list might not be bad luck after all, but a consequence of the rigorous training schedule Bielsa keeps putting them through, even in the midst of an already demanding season.

Until very recently, anyone daring to post even the slightest of criticism of Bielsa on social media was told that they weren’t a proper Leeds fans, that they shouldn’t be so negative, and reminded where we were before he took over. But for the first time there has been a notable shift this week, and many are openly suggesting that it might be time for a change, at least at the end of the season, if not right away.

There is no indication yet whether he will seek to renew his contract for another year, or that the club will offer him one, and there seem to be a few names in the frame as alternatives for next season. His age alone (67 by the time 2022/3 kicks off) suggests he won’t be at Elland Road for that much longer anyway, but there is a growing feeling that this might be his final season.

As long as he can keep us in the Premier League he can leave with his honour intact, giving his successor something to build on, with the club in a better place than he found it. But the improved form of some of those beneath us is another worry. Palace did us a favour by beating Watford on Wednesday night, but the concerning result was Burnley’s second consecutive win.

So Bielsa needs to bounce back with a win tomorrow lunchtime against another manager whose inconsistent results have cast a bit of doubt over his future, Antonio Conte of Spurs. We have to hope that we face the Spurs who lost that game at Burnley and left Conte doubting if he was the man to fix their problems, rather than the Spurs who achieved a surprise win at Manchester City.

After tomorrow we have eight of our final twelve games against teams in the bottom half of the table, and with the likelihood of getting some key players back from injury Bielsa still has the opportunity of sealing his legacy by keeping Leeds in the Premier League. Here’s hoping!


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