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Bielsa taking pragmatic approach to difficult second album - Interview
Friday, 1st Nov 2019 10:10 by Clive Whittingham

Leeds United haven't hit the heights of 12 months ago, but supporter Ben Phelps hopes a more pragmatic approach to Marcelo Bielsa's second season will prevent another end of season meltdown at Elland Road.

I still can’t quite believe how last season ended for Leeds – are you over it? Why did it all fall apart so dramatically? I mean, that Wigan game and the second leg against Derby were incredible…

It is hard to put into words how the end of last season affected me personally and Leeds supporters in general. The general consensus is that there is no reason any team should implode like that, but we are Leeds and we never fail to make it hard on ourselves. Complacency was the culprit in the Wigan game. Wigan had a man sent off for DOGSO and we missed the ensuing penalty. Still, momentum was in our favour and Bamford scored not long after, easing the crowd's worries. Then Gavin Massey scored two goals on either side of halftime and panic ensued. Wigan packed the box and played last-ditch defending - extremely effectively - and all of the sudden we are staring at playoffs. I was honestly more upset at this loss than the Derby loss. The implosion at home to Wigan prepared me mentally for it to happen again in the playoffs.

What was done over the summer to make sure that doesn’t happen again? How did you rate your transfer window?

Keeping Bielsa was priority #1. Keeping Kalvin Phillips was priority #1.5. Check and check. Replacing Pontus Jansson with Ben White looked like a downgrade but the overwhelming opinion of White is that he is a step above Jansson. Replacing Kemar Roofe was never going to be easy but Eddie Nketiah is an extremely capable forward. Helder Costa has failed to impress thus far but we know what he is capable of. We balanced the books with the sales of Jansson, Roofe, Jack Clarke (who we've loaned back in just for him to sit on the bench), Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Samu Saiz, Caleb Ekuban, and moved on a lot of dead weight from the Thomas Christiansen/Paul Heckingbottom failed experiment. Weighing all of these factors, I rate the transfer window as a 7/10.

Ins: Ben White, 21, CB, Brighton, Loan >>> Eddie Nketiah, 20, CF, Arsenal, Loan >>> Helder Costa, 25, RW, Wolves, Loan >>> Liam McCarron, 18, CF, Carlisle, Undis >>> Jack Clarke, 18, RW, Spurs, Loan >>> Jack Harrison, 22, LM, Man City, Loan >>> Illan Meslier, 19, GK, L’Orient, Loan

Outs: Jack Clarke, 18, RW, Spurs, £9.9m >>> Pontus Jansson, 28, CB, Brentford, £5.54m >>> Kemar Roofe, 26, CF, Anderlecht, £5.4m >>> Bailey Peacock-Farrell, 22, GK, Burnley, £2.4m >>> Samu Saiz, 28, AM, Girona, £2.25m >>> Caleb Ekuban, 25, CF, Trabzonspor, £900k >>> Tom Pearce, 21, LB, Wigan, £250k >>> Aapo Halme, 21, CB, Barnsley, £200k >>> Tyler Denton, 23, RB, Stevenage, Undisclosed >>> Hadi Sacko, 25, RW, Denizlispor (Turkey), Undisclosed >>> Yosuke Ideguchi 22, CM, Gamba Osaka, Undisclosed >>> Paudie O’Connor, 21, CB, Bradford, Free >>> Sam Dalby, 19, CF, Watford, Free >>> Lewie Coyle, 23, RB, Fleetwood, Loan >>> Laurens De Bock, 26, LB, Sunderland, Loan >>> Pawel Cibicki, 25, CF, Den Haag, Loan >>> Jay Roy Grot, 21 CF, Vitesse, Loan >>> Conor Shaughnessy, 23, CB, Mansfield, Loan

I was surprised Bielsa stayed on personally but here he is – what’s he changed this season?

He's been taking a more pragmatic approach to the season. It is still common for us to dominate games but we seem to be picking up more valuable points than last season. The win against West Brom and the two most recent results -- draws away to Preston and Sheffield Wednesday -- have shown we can pick up points when playing below standard. Also, the defence looks rock solid, only conceding eight goals in 14 matches - best in the league.

Leeds don’t seem to have hit the heights of 12 months ago, certainly not scoring as many goals, but are still well in the mix at the top, so is that just a weaker league or have we kind of got used to Bielsa and we’re taking it for granted a bit? How do you assess your start to the season overall?

It's a mixture of the two. The league doesn't have any runaway leaders at this point but I'd point to our improved defence and lack of clinical finishing (our xG is about +6 to our actual goals scored) as the reason why we are not a few points in the lead. The Birmingham sanctions and nine-point deduction last season have really put a damper on spending in the Championship which is another reason for the parity we're seeing today.

League results so far…
Bristol City 1-3 Leeds (Weimann 79 – Hernandez 26, Bamford 57, Harrison 72)
Leeds 1-1 Forest (Hernandez 59 – Grabban 77)
Wigan 0-2 Leeds (Bamford 34, 65)
Leeds 1-0 Brentford (Nketiah 81)
Stoke 0-3 Leeds (Dallas 42, Alioski 50, Bamford 62)
Leeds 0-1 Swansea (Routledge 90)
Barnsley 0-2 Leeds (Nketiah 84, Klich pen 89)
Leeds 1-1 Derby (Lowe og 20 - Martin 90)
Charlton 1-0 Leeds (Bonne 32)
Leeds 1-0 West Brom (Bartley og 36)
Millwall 2-1 Leeds (Wallace pen 16, Bradshaw 45 – Alioski 46)
Leeds 1-0 Birmingham (Phillips 65)
Preston 1-1 Leeds (Barkhuizen 74 – Nketiah 87)
Sheff Wed 0-0 Leeds

Is the biggest challenge for Leeds learning to win without Hernandez? Is he really that crucial or am I overblowing it?

No, you aren't. Hernandez creates chances from nothing and has the creativity nobody else in the team has. Without Pablo we are very predictable, but still very good at football. If only we could finish chances.

Bamford or Nketiah?

This is a very loaded question. At this point in the season who would I prefer to start? Nketiah. Who will Bielsa start? Bamford. They are different players and bring different things to the table. I'm glad I'm not the one making these decisions.

Stand out players and weak links in the side?

Standouts: Ben White, CB - The on-loan Brighton defender has made me wonder why they spent millions of pounds on Adam Webster when they had someone better all along. Kalvin Phillips, CDM - Should be starting for England at Declan Rice's position. Premier League player playing in the Championship who we will lose in the summer if we're not promoted. Kiko Casilla, GK - First season jitters are gone and he's been calm and steady with both his hands and feet.

Weak links: Wingers: So much of our playing style revolves around getting the ball wide and dumping in crosses. Most of them are off target and the ones that are on target get flubbed with the shot. That being said, Jack Harrison has most of our assists this season but frustrates supporters for the other 85 minutes of the game. Patrick Bamford, ST - It is clear the striker is struggling for confidence in front of goal at the moment. He hasn't scored in the last nine league matches. He had a wonderfully placed header brilliantly saved by Westwood at the weekend, which really needed to go in to boost his mindset. His struggle will eventually come to an end, but when that happens remains to be seen.

How do you think this season will go? Dare you predict one better than last year after all the recent late season heartbreak?

If the league continues the way it has been, I think we can pull away from the pack and secure automatic promotion. It would not surprise me to be in the playoffs again however.

Will/can this owner continue to put money in if you don’t go up?

Short answer - no. Radrizzani has been teasing supporters with "investment partners" in America and Qatar, who will either come in as a partial owner if we promote, or a full sale if we don't go up. Championship football isn't financially sustainable and I don't think the owner will want to continue to fund a hobby if he doesn't end up profiting.

Links >>> Leeds United official website >>> Yorkshire Evening Post – Local Paper >>> Yorkshire Post – Local Paper >>> The Square Ball – Fanzine >>> WACCOE – Forum >>> Marching on Together – Forum >>> Not 606 – Forum >>> SB Nation – Blog

The Twitter @LUFCVirginia, @loftforwords

Pictures – Action Images

Action Images

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TacticalR added 17:10 - Nov 1
Thanks to Ben.

One thing that wasn't mentioned is that Bielsa's high-intensity teams have a reputation for falling away towards the end of a season. It will be interesting to see if they last the course this time around. Maybe it's better to be on more of an even keel.

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