Leeds United to recharge their batteries

Marcelo Bielsa will give his Leeds United players a little respite from the demands of their Premier League season as it enters a less intense phase. When they return, at West Ham United a week today, the aim will be to put together a sequence of wins.

Marcelo Bielsa: Reflecting on defeat.
Marcelo Bielsa: Reflecting on defeat.

Saturday’s 1-0 home defeat to Aston Villa was the Whites’ 13th game since Christmas, squeezed into 63 days. They have 12 to play before the season ends in 83 days’ time.

It has been a gruelling schedule for everyone and Leeds’ squad – partly by Bielsa’s choice – is tighter than many. Whilst Aston Villa’s absentees included influential playmaker Jack Grealish, Leeds were missing Robin Koch (knee), Rodrigo (groin), Kalvin Phillips (calf), Jamie Shackleton (groin), Ian Poveda (ankle) and longer-term absentees Gaetano Berardi (knee) and Adam Forshaw (groin) through injury. Pascal Struijk went off injured and Mateusz Klich has played with niggles at times recently.

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Allowing his players to rest will therefore be a key part of the preparations to face David Moyes’s Champions League-chasing side.

“We’re going to have more players in the squad by recovering those that are injured, we will use the time so that the players that have been playing with niggles can resolve them and we will manage these nine days so the team can rest a little,” said coach Bielsa.

He was unwilling to say at this early stage how many injured players he hoped to have back for the game in east London.

The Argentinian argued Leeds were the better side against Villa, and the statistics backed him up, although he accepted a draw was the most “logical” result after the hosts were punished during a slow start by Anwar El Ghazi’s fortuitous goal.

Nevertheless, their play in the final third was a long way removed from the quality of football they served up earlier in the week at Elland Road to beat Southampton 3-0.

It meant Leeds were unable to record back-to-back victories for just the fourth time this season. They have not won three in a row since returning to the Premier League in the summer, capable of brilliance at times but also inconsistency as they step up to a new level.

“I analyse every game we play and Saturday was an excellent opportunity to win two games in a row,” commented Bielsa. “We played a game where we didn’t deserve to lose. The key is to win games successively and when we don’t win a game which allows us to build on our previous victory I try to explain what impeded us from doing this.”

Both sides defended well, but Leeds lacked the precision to make the most of the amount of ball they had.

“We should have been ahead in the first half given the chances we had but we didn’t defend as well in the first half as we did in the second,” explained Bielsa. “We had the ball for most of the second half but created little danger. We had many, many balls to attack them and the one thing that was positive is we only lost the ball in the final third. Having had so much of the ball at our disposal in the final third what you need is precision in the pass, whether that be from out wide to the box or from outside the box into the box.

“It could be interpreted as they defended our final pass well or you could say we lacked imagination and precision.

“I think it was a game where we didn’t deserve to lose. I think the draw would have been more logical.

“If there had to be a winner, I think it should have been us but in the first half we created six chances, a good number of chances, with the dominance more shared, and in the second half with complete dominance we only managed to create one.”

Klich also felt Leeds need to be more clinical.

They had a late chance to win the game but Raphinha’s header into the turf bounced high and wide of the goal.

“Maybe it should have been in but it wasn’t and that’s the problem,” acknowledged the Polish midfielder. “It only matters if it ends up in the net but it didn’t this time and you have these games sometimes, we just need to be more clinical.

“I don’t think we had a good game. We managed the ball well but in the final third, where it’s most important, we didn’t really create any danger, maybe a couple of chances. We can do better.

“We conceded a bad goal in the second phase of the set piece (a Villa corner, inadvertently played back in by Ollie Watkins). We should have done better there.

“We had some chances in the beginning of the game (most notably when Emiliano Martinez saved from Tyler Roberts). We wanted to start quickly because we knew Aston Villa were going to press us and that they’re a very good side.

“Conceding a goal didn’t help us, it helped them massively.”

Match report: Page 2