Leeds United v Preston North End - Patience required before assessing Whites' true promotion credentials '“ Bielsa

MARCELO BIELSA insists it is too early in the season to talk about Leeds United's promotion credentials.

Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa, pictured during the 1-1 draw with Millwall at The Den on Saturday. Picture: James Hardisty
Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa, pictured during the 1-1 draw with Millwall at The Den on Saturday. Picture: James Hardisty

The table-topping Elland Road club host second-bottom Preston North End tonight looking to preserve the Championship’s only remaining unbeaten record.

With struggling Birmingham City also heading to the West Riding later this week, Bielsa’s United have a golden opportunity to cement their place at the summit.

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As for the wider picture in the second tier, however, the Argentinian feels any judgement would be premature due to the campaign being just seven games old.

“We need a longer period to evaluate if our team has the skills to get promotion,” he said ahead of a clash that will see Leeds without Kemar Roofe, Pablo Hernandez and Patrick Bamford.

“There is a difference between the first games we played and the last three games. The injuries and the absences of some players are part of the difficulties you face in this competition. All teams face them and we are facing this kind of problem right now.

“But all teams will have to play games without the presence of important players. So the difficulties we are facing, the other teams have the same ones. Maybe in a different period, before us or after us, but they will face them.”

Preston are the only club to get the better of Leeds this term, Alex Neil’s men having triumphed 2-0 in the Carabao Cup second round last month.

Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa, pictured during the 1-1 draw with Millwall at The Den on Saturday. Picture: James Hardisty

Otherwise, though, it has been a bleak few weeks for North End, who have not won in the league since beating QPR on the opening day.

“Preston is a special team because Preston’s players have the skills to move the ball,” Bielsa added. “They have a position in the table that they do not deserve.

“I do feel we are getting stronger in each game. But it is still not convenient to talk about the final position, when we have just played seven games. It is too early to draw conclusions after just seven games.

“Any conclusion that you take right now would not be a solid one because football is a game where you have many surprises.”

Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa exchanges words with the Millwall bench at The Den on Saturday. Picture: James Hardisty.

United preserved their unbeaten start at Millwall in Saturday’s feisty encounter thanks to a dramatic 89th-minute equaliser from Jack Harrison that prompted Samuel Saiz to race 40 yards to celebrate with Bielsa and his coaching staff in the visitors’ technical area at The Den.

This came a couple of minutes after a touchline clash that saw Bielsa take issue with the Lions delaying the return of the ball for a throw-in. The United head coach subsequently apologised, saying he had an “obligation not to behave like this”.

That appeared to be that, especially with neither manager seeming interested in making more of the clash in their respective post-match press conferences.

Yesterday morning, however, an interview was published in which Neil Harris said: “Their reaction to the goal is completely over the top and a disgrace in English football.”

Millwall manager Neil Harris chats to Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa before the match at The Den on Saturday. Picture: James Hardisty.

Bielsa responded at his lunchtime press conference by saying the nationality of those involved “doesn’t matter” but then declined to further fan the flames of controversy.

“I get involved in disputes only when I think that exchanging arguments with the opponent increases the understanding of the public,” said the former Athletic Bilbao chief, whose staff at Leeds includes three fellow South Americans in Diego Flores, Diego Reyes and Pablo Quiroga.

“I have an idea of what we should make public and what we shouldn’t. I also (know) that I am a foreigner and I am welcome and received by the football of a country that is not mine. These points are enough for me to avoid making any response.

“Everything that happened at the end of the game is clear enough so there is no necessity to explain it. When you act like a savage, you will always be criticised.

“But when the river has too much water in it, you don’t only draw the conclusion that the river has too much water. You need to think why the river has too much. What are the causes?

“To be accused as a savage, when you are accused of not behaving well, you have to take into account the causes, the reasons that made you not behave well.”

As for tonight’s meeting with United’s League Cup conquerors from three weeks ago, Bielsa added: “It is not a good habit to stop winning. Our aspiration is to win a game.

“To win is a necessity. But I always have the feeling of confidence.

“It doesn’t matter who we play against, I always think we can win. It is part of the DNA of our profession. I don’t think the position in the table generates pressure or makes things easier for us. We will always have the obligation to win.”

Gaetano Berardi is edging closer to a return for Leeds along with Jamie Shackleton, but neither are in contention to face Preston tonight.

Last six games: Leeds United WWDWLDD, Preston North End DLLWDL.

Referee: G Eltringham (Tyne & Wear).

Last time: Leeds United 0 Preston North End 2; August 28, 2018; Championship.