There is something not quite right happening in Yorkshire. Leeds United have currently regressed from their epic rise under Marcelo Bielsa as they have just two wins from their first 11 games in the Premier League this year. The club have suffered some injuries to key players, but it’s Bielsa’s small squad desires that have really cost the Whites in matches.
What is concerning for Leeds after these first 11 games is that they have only played two out of the big six clubs, Manchester United and Liverpool, and they have conceded eight goals in those two matches. While Leeds fans would not have found those two defeats concerning, it is their poor form from the other games that should have them asking questions of the Argentine coach. It is all good wanting a small manageable squad to work with, but when a string of injuries occurs, you are always going to risk the club’s position. With key figures Patrick Bamford and Luke Ayling having been absent since September, Bielsa has struggled to have his team clicking without the focal point and leadership Bamford brings to their attack.
His presence has been sorely missed at Elland Road and when Leeds have been on their travels this campaign. Last year he finished as the joint-fourth highest goalscorer in the league with 17 goals, while also providing seven assists. This just highlights the impact he has on the team and his absence has cost Leeds, because of how well he leads the line.
His injury has seen him miss six games in the league, and yet he has one goal to his name while also having the most assists with two. He has contributed to 27% of his side’s goals and has missed over half of the games played. Bielsa will be desperate to have his star man back in action soon as they have four key fixtures fast approaching and the lack of goals among the rest of the squad is a concern. Only Southampton and Norwich have scored less goals than Leeds, which is a giant red flag when you consider their five draws and four defeats.
Having secured a hard-fought point against Leicester City before the international break, Bielsa will want to build on that with the games that are next on the calendar, but he will need the attacking players available to fill the void left by Bamford as he bids to return to the pitch quickly. Raphinha has so far answered the call, with five goals to his name this term, nearly half of Leeds’ total tally. Immediately, this is an issue that needs to be addressed in the coming weeks if they are to push on in the division and relieve the pressures and whispers of relegation that are quietly looming over their shoulder.
Bielsa is adored in Leeds, and in supporters’ eyes he can do no wrong. He has earned a strong blind loyalty from the Elland Road faithful, but the truth is some of his tactics and management have been the cause of some of their failures. While it is all good to inspire eye-catching football, it counts for nothing when results don’t go your way and your defence is weak.
We saw last season how disorganised the defence was, especially from set-pieces, but it was thrown to the back of people’s minds because Leeds were finding a way to outscore their opponents. From what we have seen from them in 2021-22, they are too heavily reliant on Bamford and Raphinha to pull them out of trouble and it is not healthy for a club with huge aspirations. They have conceded a total of 18 goals after 11 games, with only Aston Villa, Newcastle and Norwich conceding more – so there are grave problems at both ends of the pitch.
The Argentine boss has a tough game to kick-off this crucial quadruple of fixtures with an away trip to Antonio Conte’s Tottenham Hotspur, but with Spurs still adjusting to life under the Italian, Leeds will have a great chance to cause an upset. They will then hopefully be boosted by the return of Bamford as they take on Brighton at the Amex Stadium, and that will be a tough contest. That’s followed by a double header of home clashes against Crystal Palace and Brentford, so they will need to make their home advantage count.
The game against Brentford, especially, will be key for Bielsa, as Thomas Frank’s side have lost their last four games before the break, including a defeat to Norwich. And with the Bees one place above them in the table, it could prove to be a defining moment in their season and for Bielsa’s position at the helm.