Leeds United display champions’ mentality in beating Derby County

We might have seen Marcelo Bielsa’s guard drop as his squad went into party mode at the weekend but once he was back to work on Sunday, it was back to raging on the sidelines whenever his players failed to hit footballing perfection.

“Again! Again!” he yelled as his players chased the ball down in stoppage time, 3-1 to the good in a game where defeat would have had no bearing on their season.

In many ways, a game between the team already assured of the Championship title and a side who once more have teased us into thinking they might possibly challenge for promotion only to fall short, did not need playing.

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But when Bielsa is your coach, there is always something to play for, always points to prove. There will be no overhaul but inevitably there will be changes for the Premier League, and at Derby County yesterday it was up to the deputies to show they deserve to be part of it. Their response was a comfortable come-from-behind victory which was far from Bielsaball at his best, but still impressive in its own way.

Pablo Hernandez celebrates scoring Leeds first and equalising goal (Picture: Andrew Varley)

“After two days of celebration it was not easy to play but this team always shows its spirit and gives 100 per cent on the pitch, it doesn’t matter the circumstances,” said Pablo Hernandez afterwards.

Bielsa is not a coach who likes ripping things up and starting again. Sheffield United have shown the value this season of sticking with a well-honed method and the players who are attuned to it, and whilst the influence Bielsa has had on the likes of Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino means Leeds’s style is not quite as unusual as the Blades’, they are unusually good at it.

Additions to both squads need patience whilst they learn new methods but it means Bielsa loves working with those who have got the hang of it. It is why Jack Harrison is expected back for a third loan spell from Guardiola’s Manchester City.

So a line-up with seven changes to the side which edged past Barnsley was not simply a case of giving players who have been working exceptionally hard since they started working with Bielsa, and who appear to have been partying hard since promotion was secured on Friday, it was also an audition for the next step of a remarkable journey.

Jamie Shackleton of Leeds United celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the Sky Bet Championship match between Derby County and Leeds United at Pride Park. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

That said, even when Gaetano Berardi left on a stretcher in the first half, Liam Cooper was still left on the bench, Luke Ayling coming on at centre-back. With his contract up at the end of the season, Berardi’s nasty fall might make it harder for him to be part of next season’s squad.

Leeds’s youngsters, though are at an advantage. Not only is this summer’s transfer window going to be more like a porthole – at least in terms of the time before the new season starts – but Bielsa is also a hopeless footballing romantic whose fondness for a tight squad means the juniors on the fringes are always heavily involved in training.

“If we hadn’t made it (to the Premier League this season), it would probably have been the case that we’d be competing in the Championship with a younger squad and I think that challenge appealed to him,” said chief executive Angus Kinnear, who cannot claim to know Bielsa that well because no one in football can, but can take a better guess than most.

Tyler Roberts was busy at centre-forward, shooting over and forcing a Kelle Roos save in the first four minutes, then missing the target when Jayden Bogle was caught over-playing, and making some good runs in behind.

Leeds United's Gaetano Berardi (top) fouls Derby County's Martyn Waghorn (Picture: PA)

Ian Poveda was a regular outlet on the right wing, but his over-enthusiasm when Roberts was in a crossing position meant the “goal” he scored in first-half stoppage time was from an offside position, and therefore chalked off.

Further back, the second full Championship debutant, Pascal Struijk reprised the holding-midfield role he had carried out so well as a substitute against Barnsley. Even when Berardi made way, he did not slot into his preferred position at centre-back, but he could help to make light of the loss of Ben White if Leeds are unable to persuade Brighton and Hove Albion to let them have the highly-rated central defender back on loan. Struijk showed his confidence by forcing a save from distance late in the first half.

Conceding first might have tested their hunger, Chris Martin sweeping in after Leeds failed to clear a Craig Forsyth cross but within minutes they were level.

Materusz Klich was missing from a league XI for the first time under Bielsa but Hernandez was starting for the first time since the resumption and the more languid game only suited him more. He was involved a few times in the build-up before Poveda picked him out in the D. The first shot was blocked, the second was not.

Another academy product, Jamie Shackleton, was in the Klich role on his seventh league start, and when Roberts dropped deep onto an Ayling pass, he made the run and finished it off.

Matt Clarke then clumsily knocked home a curling Ezgjan Alioski cross to mean the only hollow thing about the post-match celebrations was the echoes around the the empty stadium.