TONY PULIS believes that Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa is the perfect candidate to handle the pressure cooker of expectation at Elland Road and bring the good times back to the club.
This evening’s eagerly-anticipated top-of-the-table duel between early pacesetters Leeds and Pulis’s Middlesbrough represents the stand-out Championship fixture of the season thus far – with both side’s unbeaten league record in 2018-19 being on the line.
Victory for either side – separated only by goal difference at the summit of the second-tier after five matches – would see them go into the first international break with at least a three-point advantage.
While Leeds’s outstanding start to the season under Bielsa has drawn considerable fanfare, Pulis admits he has been happy for his Boro side – widely expected to be one of the leading contenders for automatic promotion before a ball was kicked – to fly under the radar somewhat in comparison.
But the Welshman is unequivocal in his view that the added spotlight that Leeds – who have brought Chelsea midfielder Izzy Brown back to Yorkshire on a season-long loan after previous stints at Huddersfield Town and Rotherham United – are under will not phase Bielsa in any way.
Pulis said: “He has the experience to handle the situation and I think that is what you need at Leeds. They have needed someone there with the experience to ride the enthusiasm and potential that the club has.
“Bielsa is my age and has probably seen Leeds in the 60s and 70s and it sticks with you. It is a club with enormous potential. A one-club city where everything is there.
“There has not been a lot about us. It is all about Leeds, which is right in lots of ways. So we will go there and enjoy it.”
The meeting between the two most senior managers in the second-tier in Bielsa and Pulis – whose combined dug-out experience stretches to over half a century – is viewed by some onlookers as a clash between two vastly contrasting footballing styles.
While Bielsa has achieved early success with a proactive, high-intensity attacking style of football, Pulis, according to perception at least, has been deemed by many to have achieved results through a pragmatic, defensive approach.
His players are very direct and play through the pitch quickly and get bodies up and play and run forward. I think that is direct; you do not see his team passing backwards, square or sidewards.Tony Pulis
For his part, Bielsa has dismissed talk of a style clash as highly subjective, a notion Pulis concurs with.
Bielsa, who described Pulis as ‘a legend of English football’, said: “It is winning with one style or winning with another style. And what we are comparing right now actually is taste, sensibilities, feelings.
“If we only had two opposite ways and if football was reduced to (Pep) Guardiola style or (Jose) Mourinho style, both styles propose a path to success.
“You would not have any head coach who would say that the style is above success. What he would rather say is with this style I am in better conditions to achieve success.
“The resources you use to overcome the opponent; you never win playing bad.”
Pulis observed: “Perception in this country is everything.
“His players are very direct and play through the pitch quickly and get bodies up and play and run forward.
“I think that is direct; you do not see his team passing backwards, square or sidewards. They play through the pitch and create lots of opportunities by doing that.”
For Boro, tonight’s build-up has not been without its issues, with Pulis revealing that forward Martin Braithwaite has expressed a wish to leave the club before today’s deadline for international transfers and domestic loans.
La Liga duo Girona and Leganes have spoken with representatives of Braithwaite – who has started the season impressively for Boro – with the Denmark international keen on a move to Spain.
Incoming deals hinge on what happens with Braithwaite, with Boro aiming to tie up contracts to sign Millwall midfielder George Saville and Crystal Palace winger Jason Puncheon.
Pulis did get one signing over the line yesterday, Boro acquiring left-sided utility man Sam McQueen on a season-long loan from Southampton.
Boro trio Ashley Fletcher, Marvin Johnson and Rudy Gestede are wanted by Championship clubs.
On the Braithwaite situation, Pulis said: “It is a bit of a disappointment, but that is the way the world works.
“I just want players who want to be here for Middlesbrough. As I’ve said, it is a smashing club, and a club that people should be proud to work for.”
Boro, the last Yorkshire side remaining in the competition, will travel to face Preston in the Carabao Cup third round.
Kalvin Phillips’s view: Page 24