Leeds United v Arsenal: A case of the Blues, must Whites must now respond

Sometimes in the aftermath of a defeat, football reporters can catch managers at their lowest ebb. Days later, we can see a completely different person.

In a game which inspires such emotions, such swings are inevitable but there was little doubt the Marcelo Bielsa on show to the world on Thursday was the one Leeds United supporters would have hoped to see – a fighter hungry to get back out there.

The last seven days have been the best of times and the worst of times, at least in Bielsa’s tenure as coach.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Sat behind a desk in Manchester City’s lavish stadium on Tuesday night, he was a picture of despondency. He had just seen his team beaten 7-0, equalling the largest margin of defeat in the club’s history.

Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa reacts in their 7-0 defeat at Manchester City. Picture: PA

At moments like that, Bielsa is always one to heap responsibility on himself, taking as much blame as he deserves and often more. On this occasion it bordered on disrespect, claiming that by their own standards, City had not played especially well, it was just Leeds had been so bad during what he called the worst performance of his three-and-a-half-year tenure. He was right about his own side, and sometimes when a coach is so wrapped up in a game his focus can be solely on them, but the champions were also excellent.

It would be naive to expect a coach to be anything but miserable minutes after seeing his team take a record-equaliing defeat, compounded by the injuries to Jamie Shackleton and Dan James and the suspension to Junior Firpo which makes this evening’s task at home to Arsenal more difficult. If he were laughing and joking, fans would be even more angry.

It was a world away from three days earlier when a team uncomfortably close to the Premier League relegation zone – five points above New Year’s Day opponents Burnley but having played twice more – had lost again, but in very different circumstances.

The margin of defeat was only 3-2, the victors the European champions this time rather than the English ones and the tipping point a contentious stoppage-time penalty converted by Jorginho. It was, said Bielsa, not one to overblow his own side’s good performance, their best of the season.

Leeds United's Junior Firpo. Picture: Tony Johnson

Just as managers are expected to flick a switch from one press conference to the next, so Bielsa is hoping his players can do the same on the pitch this evening. They have to.

“Against Chelsea we played our best game of the season, against City it was the worst,” he reflected in an occasionally feisty press conference, 34 hours but worlds away from his last.

“I have the confidence and obligation for us to reproduce the performance against Chelsea, not the one against City.”

The Jekyll-and-Hyde nature of the last week shows it is dangerous to judge a badly-depleted Leeds on one miserable game, just as it would have been misleading to get carried away by the match which preceded it. The problems and the positives both run deeper.

“Of course this moment is the worst of all the moments I have had at Leeds,” commented Bielsa. “Of course to lose 7-0 is not just another defeat.

“You say we have won two (league games) in 10 but we can also look at those results in a more favourable way (four have been drawn, two won). Where you cut off the results always shows where the question is going, it’s natural that you do it this way.

“You can also look at it that prior to the defeat against City it was the most productive segment of the season so far (garnering 10 of their 16 points in those nine games) and that at Chelsea it was our best performance.

“After 7-0 it is natural to question, it is totally justified. I always think in adversity you have to face difficulties. You have to face it with everything.

“I’m in high spirits. Part of my job is to face the most difficult moments. You come out of them correcting things, taking them on board and not delegating responsibility or looking to blame others. They are all of the things we try to do.”

One thing hurting Bielsa is that his options to change the personnel are so limited. Defender Robin Koch is available having trained this week but with his only game of the season coming on the opening day, it may be that he can only contribute from the bench, or that he will have to be substituted. Luke Ayling, Diego Llorente, Stuart Dallas, Adam Forshaw, Jack Harrison, Mateusz Klich, Raphinha and Tyler Roberts are Leeds’s only other fit senior outfield players.

The question of whether Bielsa should do more to give himself more options in the January transfer window will not go away – at least not until the team is consistently winning. Where many a manager will complain about the lack of players those above have provided him with, the stumbling block here appears to be Bielsa. His stance on not adding players better than he already has is as laudable as it is sensible but it really feels like he needs a bigger core of players than the 18 seniors (plus 15 juniors) he likes to work with.

Even when it comes to bringing back loan players he seems reluctant although in fairness few could add the experience that is lacking anyway.

“They went on loan and the club understood my opinion that the players here were in better conditions,” he explained.

“What we have to verify is if there has been an evolution in them outside of the club.”

For now at least, change will have to come from within.