With Rodrigo and Robin Koch also set to miss tomorrow’s game at Chelsea it is clear the Whites’ luck has not changed any in what has been an injury-hit season. Despite that, their coach insists he and his depleted squad go into an extremely difficult run of fixtures optimistic about what they can do.
After Chelsea, Leeds complete their 2021 with games against Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool and Aston Villa. They looked difficult enough even before the club issued a gloomy injury bulletin a little over an hour and a half before Bielsa’s pre-match press conference.
Anyone hoping for more information in that was in for a fair amount of disappointment.
“The time they will be out for is subject to their evolution,” said the Argentinian coach in response to the inevitable first question. Pressed as to whether Phillips could be available this month, he added: “I’ve already answered this, it’s all subject to the evolution of the injury. I can’t express myself any further in that sense.”
Asked if any of the trio would require surgery, he replied: “I didn’t ask for that information. As a result, I can’t tell you it.”
There was some extra information, though, about the nature of the hamstring problems.
“It’s not that they’re not muscular injuries but they affect the tendon, not the muscle fibres,” he stressed.
“Because they’re more tendon injuries we know it’s not like the muscular injuries that are cured in one month.”
Asked if Phillips could perhaps finally have surgery on the long-standing shoulder problem which could not be addressed over the summer because of his vital role in England’s progress to the European Championship final, Bielsa said: “I haven’t heard that from the medical staff (about the possibility) but it (the suggestion) has common sense.
“If the time he needs to recover from this injury exceeds the time he needs to recover from his shoulder, it makes sense. But as we don’t know how long it’s going to take to recover from his current injury I can’t apply my common sense to your enquiry.”
The club’s bulletin had more to say about Koch and Rodrigo, who “has been suffering from bilateral heel pain for some time. The player and medical staff have deemed it necessary to reduce his activity for the time being, in order to aid his long-term recovery.”
Koch is said to have recovered from the operation on a pelvic injury which has not seen him play since the opening weekend, but his return was delayed for 10 days by illness. He is expected to resume training this weekend.
It all paints a demoralising picture of a squad Bielsa voluntarily limits to 16 senior outfield players, plus a cohort of talented but inexperienced juniors.
Many a manager would quickly play the sympathy card, referring to a squad down to “the bare bones”. Bielsa is nothing if not unconventional, refreshingly so in this case.
“I understand there’s certain pessimism because the upcoming games are difficult,” he acknowledged. “Instead of bringing back players we have new injuries and absentees. But when we play against big teams there’s an added strength that comes from that, when the supposed weak one has the opportunity to win against a team that before playing them is better.
“Football allows for the hopes, (the) fantasy that contradicts logical reasoning so my position is one of optimism and fortitude and it’s not a position that’s just individual.
“It’s the conclusions I make by evaluating the mood of the team.
“I understand that in adversity one of the responses could be fatalism but there’s another option – optimism, hope and fight. I never say we’re going to win but I always we’ll always do our utmost to deserve to win.
“We prepare ourselves with a lot of hope. The hopes and desires are increased because they are very good opponents.
“To be able to get points in these games has an added value. We’re going to get to each of those games with that desire.”
Bielsa does at least have Luke Ayling fit again, having come through his return from injury unscathed in the 2-2 draw with Brentford. As well as his considerable footballing ability, he brings leadership in the absence of Phillips and especially Cooper.
“He’s a player with a lot of personality, he takes risks with the management of the ball and he’s especially optimistic and he transmits confidence, faith and energy to all of us,” said Bielsa.
“In the absence of Cooper, who’s our captain, we can also say that Ayling is a great captain.”
Chelsea have injury problems too with Jorginho, Mateo Kovacic, Marcos Alonso, N’Golo Kante, Ben Chilwell and former Huddersfield Town loanee Trevoh Chalobah missing Wednesday’s Champions League defeat to Zenit St Petersburg through injury.
“Things happen to us but they also happen to our opponents,” said Bielsa. “I never find in the difficulties a justification not because it’s my method, because I feel that way. To say the difficulties mean the performance decreases, that’s just choosing the easiest path.”