A beautiful point for ‘Bielsa’s romantics’ but it’s a slog for Leeds United

Marcelo Bielsa likes his teams to play the beautiful game as beautifully as possible. At Turf Moor yesterday, Burnley tried to make it as ugly as they could. It very nearly paid off for them.

Leeds United's Patrick Bamford celebrates his goal. Pictures: Steve Riding

It says a lot for Leeds United’s pretty boys that they had the character and resolve to take a point from a game played in the most part on the opposition’s terms.

The joy of watching Leeds is you rarely see a bad game. Yesterday’s 1-1 draw was the exception that proves the rule and showed Bielsa’s romantics, who collapsed so badly at Old Trafford, have a tough edge at times.

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This season has started as a bit of a slog for them as it has for Burnley – two draws and a heavy defeat in the league, a victory they made hard work of in the cup. They seem to at least have the appetite for it.

Patrick Bamford equalises for Leeds.

Whether Burnley’s ends justify the means is one of football’s perennial arguments but they knew if they played the Whites at their own game, they would lose because Leeds, who swept them aside 4-0 on their last visit to Turf Moor in May, are infinitely better at it. But the Clarets are masters at what they do.

Burnley made it a hard game to play, a hard game to watch and at times a very hard game to referee. For long periods it was a niggly, petty, ugly, stop-start battle.

“They provoked errors and took advantage of them,” reflected Bielsa.

“The style of play doesn’t demand that their players shine. This is something of value.

“For us to play well, we need our creative players to be on top of their game.”

Both goals were fittingly scrappy, poached by Chris Wood and Patrick Bamford against their old clubs in the second half.

Wood’s, the 30,000th Premier League goal, was instantly forgettable there are no extra points for style.

No Leeds fans refused to celebrate Bamford’s equaliser because it was not aesthetically pleasing. In some respects it made it sweeter.

The Turf Moor fans took great entertainment from watching a ball James Tarkowski wellied there trickle down slowly from the roof of the Bob Lord Stand, dropping just the right side of the touchline to stop it disrupting the restarted game. Footballing entertainment comes in many forms.

Leeds might have known it was going to be one of those days when Junior Firpo and Mateusz Klich were ruled out with Covid-19, a second bout for the unfortunate Pole. It left a very green bench against opponents who had seven players over the age of 28 on theirs, including the returning Aaron Lennon.

The game was less than two minutes old when Bamford and Tarkowski indulged in off-the-ball wrestling not out of place at the Olympics. Some of the tacking was overzealous, some reactions over-exaggerated, but referee Michael Oliver seemed determined not to overuse his whistle or his notebook.

There was a Tarkowski elbow in the back of Bamford’s head and Ashley Barnes pulling Pascal Struijk’s shirt with one hand, wrapping his other around the defender’s thigh, before Oliver began booking players, firstly Josh Brownhill for a foul on Bamford. A couple of minutes later Diego Llorente was fortunate Oliver was happy simply to have the corner he grappled Wood at retaken.

Ben Mee had a Burnley goal disallowed after 26 minutes for a foul in the build-up and shortly afterwards Illan Meslier came off his line to save from the clearly offside Wood. The reluctance to make a decision on that cost Stuart Dallas a nasty whack Barnes was booked for. Like Mee’s second-half challenge on Bamford, it was a borderline red card but it was clear which way Oliver was trying to err.

Leeds got through a difficult spell – their coach Bielsa argued with some justification they “managed it well” – and started to pose problems in the last 10 minutes of the first half.

Rodrigo played Raphinha in but the ball to the far post lacked the run to make it a good one. Many moves just lacked the final pass or touch, but Bielsa preferred to credit Burnley rather than dwell on a performance Rodrigo especially disappointed in.

Burnley hit the post shortly before the break when a corner deflected off Bamford onto the woodwork,

It was not a game worthy of more than a solitary goal, and it looked like Burnley had got it after Tarkowski headed against the woodwork at another corner, helped perhaps by the faintest touch of glove from Meslier. Leeds just could not get the ball clear and when Matt Lowton shot from the back of the penalty area, Wood, stood just in front of Meslier, got a slight touch to take it past him.

Had Burnley been defending they would surely have pushed out, arms raised, and stopped Wood lurking but by dropping off Luke Ayling made Meslier’s task harder. In fairness, it would probably never have come to that – Burnley would have rightly hoofed clear far earlier.

But they made the mistake of sitting off to defend their 64th-minute lead, confident a side without a shot on target would not make them regret it. They did.

Raphinha did well to get into the area and unleash a shot Mee threw himself in front of in the 86th minute and from there it became another scramble. The ball fell to substitute Jamie Shackleton, whose own strike hit Mee again. Bamford was alert enough to divert it into the net for an unlikely point.

Sometimes they can be even more satisfying than the big wins.