There were many important contributions to the Whites’ 1-0 win over Watford at Elland Road on Saturday, a first Premier League victory of the season which was far more dominant than the scoreline made it look.
With his energetic pressing, his speedy running on and off the ball and diligent tracking back, though, James was arguably the pick. With Raphinha also performing well in and out of possession on the opposite side, and Jack Harrison unused on the bench, coach Bielsa is blessed with three high-quality options on the wing at present.
“Every time he plays, he plays better than the previous game,” said Bielsa of James, signed from Manchester United on deadline day two-and-a-half years after Leeds first tried to buy him.
“He showed resources and qualities we know he has.
“I think he’s going to make a special contribution to our team.”
Raphinha enhanced the team last season more than any player signed last summer and has taken that form into his second Premier League campaign, putting the Brazilian in line to make his international debut this month. As well as his ability, Bielsa is impressed by the workrate of the winger, who now leaves for World Cup qualifiers against Venezuela, Colombia and Uruguay (the first two away).
“It’s not common,” he said of the 24-year-old’s combination of attacking ability and defensive application.
“He’s a player that stands out. Due to standing out he doesn’t demand privileges – the opposite, he takes on more obligations.
“That’s why he’s a player that’s valued so much by all of us, due to his humility and his capacity for effort that are not common when you accompany it with so much talent.”
Harrison, who played a part in every league game he was eligible for from December 23, 2018 to September 12 (he missed two because he was on loan from opponents Manchester City), has only featured in one of the last three, as a substitute against West Ham United.
He was on the bench on Saturday, but only to be used in case of an emergency. With Crysencio Summerville ill, Stuart McKinstry was also an unused substitute.
“I was only going to bring Harrison on if it was essential,” clarified Bielsa.
“He has an important pain in his oblique (muscles) and it wasn’t necessary for him to come on.
“There are three players who are very close to each other (in ability – Raphinha, James and Harrison) and we also have Summerville and McKinstry who also have value.”
Leeds won Saturday’s game courtesy of an 18th-minute goal from Diego Llorente. Tyler Roberts hit the crossbar in the 88th minute.
Wales international Roberts came off the bench and added to Leeds’s attacking threat as they tried in vain to turn their territorial dominance into a more convincing margin of victory.
The attacking midfielder or forward can be a divisive figure amongst the Leeds support and Bielsa said of him: “He still hasn’t been able to link his qualities with his performances.
“I in particular have a lot of confidence in his resources. I feel he’s a player that can unbalance (opposition teams).
“I hope he can evolve and take up a leading role in our team. Against Watford he took a step forward.”
Centre-back Llorente’s finish was an instinctive one as the ball fell to him at a corner.
“I found the ball near me and I didn’t think, I just kicked it and had luck,” said the Spaniard.
Watford responded to the defeat by sacking manager Xisco, who led the newly-promoted club to two wins and a draw from their opening six matches before Saturday’s limp defeat. The Hornets will now look for what might laughingly be called their 14th permanent manager since Giampaolo Pozzo bought the club and sacked Sean Dyche in 2012.