Leeds United are making a good case for their defence

THE talk for much of Leeds United’s exhilarating reunion with Premier League ‘old friends’ has centred on their attacking joie de vivre. Understandably so.

For those who love to watch the beautiful game in all its glory, many of their swashbuckling performances have been a delight. Not just to their own supporters but countless neutrals as well.

The fact that Leeds, seemingly, prize adventure as opposed to conservatism adds to allure.

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Kevin Keegan’s feted Newcastle United side of the mid-Noughties stole hearts and so have Marcelo Bielsa’s line-up.

Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa. Picture Tony Johnson

But the signs are that this Leeds line-up are learning as well.

Viewed as a team who are free-flowing going forward but always ‘give you a chance’ at the back, the fact that they have tightened up defensively of late points to growing maturity and seriousness as a top-flight outfit.

Leeds’ overall concession of 50 goals in 33 league games this season is far from the best. Just five sides have worse records, in fact.

Fortunately for them, recent evidence paints United in a far better light.

Raphinha will be missing for Leeds United this weekend. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Leeds have conceded just eight goals in their past 10 top-flight matches. Just Manchester United (5) and Chelsea (7) can post better defensive statistics.

The fact that Bielsa’s side have played the likes of United, the Blues, Liverpool, Manchester City and West Ham in that time makes it all the more laudable.

Should Leeds continue in this vein for the rest of the season and the charge that they are defensively suspect will start to be challenged more.

On the reason for the improvement, Bielsa – someone who invariably misses nothing when it comes to the finer details of football matches – is keen to dispense credit across the board.

Speaking ahead of the trip to Brighton, he said: “The increase in the defensive efficiency is a collective thing. If a part of our team doesn’t press the first pass of the opponent, it is a lot more difficult to recover the ball and if the opposite happens, it is a lot easier.

“The defensive thing with the team depends on the whole team, this is very true. Even if those who recover the ball are the ones that shine and it’s not taken into account as much what the other players do to help this recovery of the ball as the opponent attackers receive the ball in less favourable conditions. And the opposite.

“When a team manages to attack well, the opposite happens when the posterior (rear) part of the team does not press the ball as well. The opponent’s attackers are able to receive the ball in better conditions.

“If the opponent receives the ball in a comfortable manner, it is more difficult for us. If the opposing team initiates the game from the back in a comfortable way, it is harder for us to defend. And if our attackers don’t receive help from those behind, then we attack worse.”

Tomorrow, United visit a Brighton side who produced an outstanding all-round show to win 1-0 at Leeds in mid-January.

That they are in a similar position to when they arrived at Elland Road is a surprise to Bielsa, with the fourth-from-bottom Seagulls probably still in need of one more win to extinguish the threat of relegation and be doubly sure.

With five games left, they are currently seven points clear of the side occupying the final place in the bottom three in Fulham.

Leeds visit an Albion side who may struggle for goals on home soil, but are strong defensively. It is a side who Bielsa has genuine respect for.

He added: “The results sometimes coincide with the performances and other times they don’t. Brighton is a team that is unfairly in the bottom part of the table. “All the parameters you can consider to evaluate a team, how they attack, how they defend, which place on the pitch they spend more time, the possession, the losses of the ball or keeping possession, their offensive intensity; all the values in which you can analyse, they all position them in a higher place than they currently occupy.”

Bielsa has reiterated that he intends to only speak directly about his future at the end of the season.

Owner Andrea Radrizzani revealed earlier this week that he is in talks with the Argentine about a new contract and does not foresee any problems as aims to secure the future of a 65-year-old for a fourth season.

He also spoke of a longer-term plan and pledged to continue to transform the club’s fortunes whenever Bielsa leaves, while being naturally hopeful that he stays put for a good while yet.

Bielsa said: “Any reference to this subject, I prefer to make it after the competition is finished.

“I appreciate the words of the owner president in regards to my possible continuity.

“But I also agree with what he says that Leeds is preceded to be above any others (interests). With the solidness of this organisation, they have the facility to make adequate and correct decisions.”

Leeds will again be without Raphinha (thigh) this weekend, but Rodrigo could be involved.

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