Leeds United: Marcelo Bielsa cautious over Patrick Bamford’s return

THE name on Leeds United supporters’ lips after Saturday’s 1-0 Premier League home loss to Newcastle United was someone who was not involved in the game.

Leeds United's Marcelo Bielsa shows his frustration against Newcastle on Saturday.  Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe
Leeds United's Marcelo Bielsa shows his frustration against Newcastle on Saturday. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

The overwhelming majority of top-flight sides would miss the presence of a Patrick Bamford in their ranks and how Leeds could have done with the England international affecting matters on the pitch at Elland Road, with his absence keenly felt.

Having shrugged off a hamstring problem which had kept him out since early December, Bamford had the misfortune to be ruled out by a separate foot injury ahead of his side’s key encounter with relegation-haunted Newcastle.

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Once again, Leeds were forced to play without a recognised centre-forward and it showed.

Marcelo Bielsa’s side boasted 63 per cent of possession, but registered just four shots on target. Newcastle had 15 goal attempts in comparison to Leeds’s total of 13, despite having a possession level of 37 per cent.

Leeds now sign off for a winter break before returning to action at Aston Villa on February 9 – with the hope being that Bamford will be in a position to feature.

Bielsa, for his part, did not particularly offer reassurance in that regard.

He said: “I have my doubts. I’m not sure.

“It’s not just about being able to count on him, it’s that he arrives in conditions to develop his game and (with) a player who has gone so long without playing, it opens up a question mark after he is healthy, how long he needs to show his regularity.

“When you have chances and you don’t score them, it’s natural you refer to a goalscorer. But the offensive game of the team was sufficient to unlevel the game in some way.”

Leeds, who are in the market for Red Bull Salzburg’s US international midfielder Brenden Aaronson, lost out to a 75th-minute strike from Newcastle’s Jonjo Shelvey, whose free-kick squirmed past Illan Meslier.

It provided a survival lifeline to the Magpies, who registered their first away win of the season and just their second league success of a troubled 2021-22. It was also their first clean sheet on the road since May.

From a Leeds perspective, there was a definite air of passing up a cherished opportunity at the final whistle, as the hosts missed the chance to move nine points away from the relegation zone and 13 clear of Newcastle.

Instead, the gap between Leeds and the Magpies, who currently occupy the final relegation place, is down to seven points.

German international Robin Koch commented: “It’s frustrating for us. We did not play a bad game and created a lot of chances (which) we missed to score a goal, then you concede and lose this game.”

“We played good until the last section of the pitch, but we just needed to score. You concede goals like this when you don’t score.”

“After the goal we conceded, it’s difficult because we put everything into the game. Everyone of us put 100 per cent into this game but we couldn’t get anything from it. We will recover and go again.”

Afterwards, there was conjecture as to why Bielsa opted to bring on Tyler Roberts before Joe Gelhardt in the second half, with the latter afforded just 10 minutes from the bench after coming on when Leeds were trailing.

Roberts entered the fray four minutes before Newcastle’s opener, replacing Dan James and struggled to make an impact.

“I thought of Gelhardt and Tyler to do the role of James or Rodrigo, but Rodrigo only lost importance towards the end of the game,” Bielsa continued.

“Given that James was on a caution, I thought Tyler was the first step to unbalance the game and that’s how I did it. And while (Mateusz) Klich was playing well, I preferred to have three players who could score.

“And because Joffy (Gelhardt) can nick a goal and Tyler and Rodrigo also have characteristics of a number nine, football has those things (and) we created more chances when we had Klich and James than when Tyler and Gelhardt came on.

“It was a game to show our differences, to have some consistency and it was a very important opportunity we couldn’t take advantage of,” added Bielsa.

“We had many moments to unbalance the game. We could unbalance them a lot, but we couldn’t convert.”