Big Match Verdict – Norwich City hold all the aces after Leeds United chief Marcelo Bielsa plays his cards too soon

Too little, too late: Patrick Bamford heads home for'Leeds United against Norwich.   Picture: Bruce Rollinson
Too little, too late: Patrick Bamford heads home for'Leeds United against Norwich. Picture: Bruce Rollinson
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WHEN it really matters, Germany’s record against Argentina stands tall in modern times.

Teutonic efficiency guaranteed Die Mannschaft’s progression at their Latino rivals’ expense in the World Cups of 2014, 2010 and 2006 – against a side who can be beguiling and perplexing in equal measure.

So Saturday’s high-stakes occasion which pitted an emerging coach from North Rhine-Westphalia in Daniel Farke against a feted son of Rosario in Marcelo Bielsa followed that template.

Bielsa’s Leeds may have prevailed handsomely in the reverse fixture against Farke’s Norwich at Carrow Road in late summer, but doing it in February when the composition of the league table is far more consequential is another skill entirely.

The decision of United’s head coach to name his starting line-up two days before this summit meeting suggested confidence and certainty.

Yet addressing the press after Saturday’s game, Bielsa – for perhaps the first time since breezing into Elland Road – suddenly looked a touch fallible.

Addressing the press after Saturday’s game, Bielsa – for perhaps the first time since breezing into Elland Road – suddenly looked a touch fallible. It pointed to a troubled mind and what can be certain was that he will have been wrestling with this result and performance into the wee small hours

Leon Wobschall

It pointed to a troubled mind and what can be certain was that he will have been wrestling with this result and performance into the wee small hours – long after Norwich’s jubilant players and staff returned to Norfolk.

The sight of Leeds being usurped at the top of the table by their opponents following a fourth defeat in six Championship outings will not have been Bielsa’s main concern.

The lack of direction, energy and assuredness of his players in the second half will have been and he will have some key issues to ponder before revealing his starting line-up at Middlesbrough on Saturday – he might just keep it to himself this time.

Unconvincing at the back and guilty of surrendering possession on numerous occasions further forward, Leeds were their own worst enemies against a Norwich side thoroughly comfortable in their own skin on their travels.

Beaten just once on the road in the league this season – a 1-0 loss at Sheffield United on August 18 – the Canaries provided compelling evidence as to just why they are, especially in a second-half which was picture-perfect until Patrick Bamford’s late consolation.

Norwich swarmed all over Leeds with an unrelenting high-press, which the hosts – whose minds were frazzled long before Mario Vrancic’s second goal – simply could not cope with.

When the Canaries had to slow down the game, they did so with Germanic professionalism.

It was an occasion when the talk regarding Hernandez afterwards surrounded visiting player Onel – one of several in yellow to excel – and not home talisman Pablo, who made way at the interval with Leeds being rudderless without him on the resumption.

As games go, it was the polar opposite to United’s irrepressible show against Derby in their last home game when they breathed defiance on the pitch and off it.

Initially, there was some early home fire after Vrancic’s opener. But Teemu Pukki’s soft second was a wounding development, with the deathly hush among the vast majority of the sell-out crowd being testament to that.

The first blow arrived five minutes in when the onrushing Adam Forshaw raced out of the wall to deflect Vrancic’s sweet free-kick past home debutant Kiko Casilla – the opening development of a fraught night.

Leeds’s initial reaction was probing and hearty with Gianni Alioski being a whisker away with a fierce low angled volley from Jack Harrison’s deep centre.

Controversy then reigned when Tim Krul raced out of goal and flattened Tyler Roberts with a crude challenge just after he lobbed over the goalkeeper – but the presence of some covering defenders ensured that the Dutchman received only a caution.

Roberts was as good as anyone in a white jersey. But behind him, there was much more to lament, with Hernandez vacating his customary director’s chair.

It got worse when Forshaw was dispossessed by the impressive Emilano Buendia, who recycled the ball to Marco Stiepermann.

With Leeds stretched, the German teed up Vrancic, whose shot took a big deflection off Pontus Jansson before rolling into the path of Pukki, who could not miss.

Krul soon denied Kemar Roofe after a surging run, and the hosts were unfortunate play was waved on after Tom Trybull caught Roberts before a Luke Ayling strike was correctly ruled out after Jansson caught Krul.

Bielsa showed his hand early by bringing on Jack Clarke and Barry Douglas at the interval, but while a number of his canny substitutions had previously turned to gold, Saturday was not one such occasion.

Leeds got worse in a half which Norwich managed supremely.and Max Aarons almost sealed it after an error by Alioski.

Jamal Lewis then got away down the left to find Vrancic, whose low shot went straight under the body of Casilla to rather sum up United’s pallid night.

Consolation with a small ‘c’ arrived when the returning Bamford headed in late on for his first home league goal for Leeds, moments after hitting the bar.

But there were no celebrations, which were reserved for those in yellow and green at the end.