Journalists were stirring in the eyes of one man.
Marcelo Bielsa was not overflowing with Christmas spirit as he spoke to the media on Zoom ahead of Burnley’s noon visit tomorrow. Leeds United’s coach has his stockings in a twist about his methods being questioned.
“The press has no influence over the team I manage,” he insisted, but asking players whether a change of emphasis is needed, as Patrick Bamford was on Sunday, clearly riled him.
He worries the media are polluting the minds of fans with lazy analysis of why Leeds have conceded the most Premier League goals. Former England captain Gary Lineker tweeted: “Leeds are really fun to watch, but they’re even more fun to play against.”
Bielsa clearly dislikes the caricature he is all about style and to hell with substance.
“This is part of the lies sold to the public,” he said. “I’ve never said this but this has been said by many influential people.
“The best way to win is to play well but nobody can say I put style over results. It’s just another way to try and ridicule me. Nothing is said casually by this media. Everything has a second function.”
Those were his last words before abruptly ending his press conference. Abrupt was not a way to describe his overall performance, as he feverishly shuffled papers on his table and analysed the 6-2 defeat to Manchester United.
The narrative around whether Leeds are too open has ramped up since. Asked how he planned to tighten up without sacrificing flair, he gave an eight-minute reply through his translator.
“The only conclusion I’ve heard is we have to modify our style,” said Bielsa. “The questions directed at the players is a form of trying to weaken our style of play, asking whether they were going to ask me to change my style.
“The real reasons why we lost are not taken into account. Journalists can only analyse results.
“What normally happens in adversity is you (media) guys try to weaken the one facing adversity or ridicule the style of play. I’m referring to the comment that Leeds United’s style is very attractive, especially to our opponents.
“What worries me is that it influences the public and decreases their capacity to understand.
“I felt it was less humiliating to lose 6-3 or 6-4. I will always gamble for the hurt to be smaller, even if there is a risk of it getting bigger. English football was one of the few where attempting to be better is valued even if the opponent ended up superior. It has stopped being this way. It will start to affect English football.”
It feels like a club whose football has made it so popular has revived the traditional Elland Road siege mentality.
From the follow-up question, Bielsa’s Christmas lecture stretched to another 32 minutes.
“The game was even,” he argued. “We were dominated and dominated in a similar manner.
“The manager of Manchester United (Ole Gunnar Solskjaer) was superior to me in the way I imagined the game. I didn’t think the key was going to be the two (home) central midfielders.”
He pointed to four set-piece chances – including Liam Cooper’s headed goal – to the Red Devils’ three as a sign his team is improving but the hosts’ extra quality was decisive.
“Manchester United needed 14 chances to score six goals, we needed 13 to score two,” he said, more than once.
“The errors Manchester United made in defence were similar. We created a proportional amount of danger but they finished their chances better.
“The pass (Anthony) Martial gives (Scott) McTominay (for the first goal) is an almost impossible pass and our reading of this move was near-perfect.
“It’s described as naïve for us to play out from the back but in this we were better than them.
“They had four counter-attacks and scored two. We didn’t create any chances via this manner. There was no counter-attack where the opponent outnumbered us. It wasn’t like at Newcastle when we countered. Because we don’t have one player who can finish an attack by himself we have to attack with many players.
“What you’re proposing is we abandon our ingenuity and allow opponents to be superior to us. The media portrays to the public that the evolution only works if it gives immediate results.
“As Leeds were consistent for two years in the Championship there were few opportunities to demand a change. Whenever there was any turbulence this is what you guys wrote.
“Competing on an even keel is different in the best league in the world compared to the sixth-best division in the world.
“There’s an incentive not to take any risk but this has little to do with how attractive football is.”
Leeds’s principles will not change under Bielsa. Hallelujah.
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