The former Middlesbrough player’s first top-flight start for the Whites was one of the highlights of a 1-1 draw with Leicester City which featured some scintillating football from the home side.
Although he kicked off this month’s League Cup tie at Arsenal, Forshaw had not started a league game for Leeds since August 2019. After that he succumbed to a long-running problem with his hip which even his coach wondered if he would ever fully recover from. He was substituted in the 90th minute yesterday having unsurprisingly suffered cramp.
The 30-year-old’s inclusion gave Leeds an extra tactical dimension, playing alongside Kalvin Phillips in more of a 4-2-3-1 formation which allowed Rodrigo greater freedom than usual behind Dan James. The Spaniard used it well, especially in the first half when he linked frequently and effectively with Raphinha, who opened the scoring from a free-kick with his fifth goal of the season. Leicester equalised almost immediately through former Barnsley loanee Harvey Barnes and thought they had won the game until video assistant referee Peter Bankes disallowed Ademola Lookman’s second-half goal for offside.
Well though Leeds played in what Bielsa called a “beautiful game to watch,” Forshaw’s performance pleased him most.
“It was a prize for his perseverance,” he said. “He never gave up.
“It gives reward to all the people who helped him in his recovery. It’s very difficult to play at this level after two years having not done so.
“To overcome all that he had to overcome has to please him. It’s a message to those who doubted because I seriously doubted he could achieve what he did. It’s a message to others that they can replicate it (his recovery).
“All his family and all the people that love him will feel admiration for this achievement.
“If everyone knew the amount of situations he had to overcome over these years, they would understand what I’m recognising is deserved.
“We have to value the personal achievement and I do especially because I really didn’t think he was going to be able to do this.”
If Forshaw’s return was something of a bonus, Bielsa also highlighted how indispensable Pascal Struijk has become to Leeds.
Struijk was named in a team that looked set up in anticipation of Leicester playing a front two, which they did not do until late in the game. Until then, the central defender played at left-back in the absence of the injured Junior Firpo, moving to the left of a back three after Daniel Amartey’s introduction, and finishing in central midfield.
“He’s a very hard-working man in the mental and physical assimilation of a new position,” said Bielsa admiringly.
“Throughout the week he was looking for solutions to the problems of a new position.
“It’s not the same for Pascal to play as a centre-back in a back four, as a wide centre-back in a back three or as a left-back in a back four, as a defensive midfielder by himself or as a double defensive midfielder, as he played in the last few minutes. All of those variety of positions that he resolves naturally make him a very necessary player.”
Leeds were also without Jamie Shackleton through injury, and Joe Gelhardt, who was not risked.
“Gelhardt felt some discomfort on Tuesday, but he didn’t feel at 100 per cent for a high-level game,” explained Bielsa.
Analysis: Page 3.