Leeds United v Crystal Palace: Whites coach Marcela Bielsa and his genuine fears for future of the game

FOR Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa, less is more when it comes to the beautiful game which he has so stylishly influenced.

Unfortunately, his Leeds side, struggling at the wrong end of the Premier League, must negotiate eight league games over the next 33 days – starting with tonight’s home game with Crystal Palace.

After Sunday’s Elland Road encounter with Brentford, it will not be lost upon anyone with affiliations to Leeds – not least Bielsa – that they face successive matches against Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool.

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By the time that United leave the pitch against Burnley on January 2, they will have played not far shy of a quarter of the season in little over a month.

FUTURE NOT SO BRIGHT: Marcelo Bielsa speaks with Raphinha at the AMEX Stadium Picture: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

It is a demanding schedule, but par for the course for England’s top-tier clubs. Many must also fit in domestic games with European competition commitments, while leading players also receive scant respite whatsoever during international breaks.

In terms of the overall Premier League ‘product’, it can suffer in terms of intensity and is doing. Questioned about the fall in Leeds’ running data this season – for a side with a previous reputation for expending a colossal amount of energy in games – Bielsa acknowledges that very fact.

But he feels that the drop-off in physical output is not exclusively restricted to Leeds. In his view, it is due to an ‘overcharged’ football calendar in England per se.

He fears it will get worse next season due to the decision to hold a World Cup in Qatar next winter and interrupt the domestic calendar midway through 2022-23.

Brighton's Jakub Moder is chased by Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips at AMEX Stadium Picture: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

In the here and now, Leeds have enough on making sure they participate in next season’s Premier League, but Bielsa sees wider issues down the line.

He said: “What is clear is that a calendar so overcharged doesn’t bear in mind the development of the preparation. So I have serious doubts over the future of professional football because it is constantly commercialised, a product that is constantly worse.

“The Premier League offers half of its players to the World Cup – or a great amount of players from the Premier League go to the World Cup.

“It – the Premier League – is interrupted 10 days before the start of the (next) World Cup. The World Cup is the most desirable thing in football and is played with the footballers and the coaches of the national teams with the minimum possibility of offering a developed team.

Brighton and Hove Albion's Tariq Lamptey (left) and Leeds United's Junior Firpo battle for the ball at the AMEX Stadium. Picture: Adam Davy/PA

“The only thing that it generates is that what is on show every time is worse.

“The World Cup is an episode that is played every four years and is a homage that football makes to the world. But to make that worse – it doesn’t make sense. It brings me great sadness how football is deteriorating.”

Closer to home, Leeds must again make do without Patrick Bamford and Luke Ayling for tonight’s game, although the fact that the pair – out since September 17 – featured for the Under-23s last night is news to be welcomed.

One player definitely available is midfielder Kalvin Phillips, with suggestions in the media that the relationship between him and Bielsa has become strained being refuted by the Argentine.

Phillips was deployed at centre-back rather than in his usual midfield position against Brighton on Saturday and was replaced at the break by Pascal Struijk.

In Leeds’ previous game at Tottenham, the England player had featured in a back three and commented that he was not sure about the reasoning as to why when interviewed afterwards.

Those dual developments prompted TV pundit Jamie Redknapp to suggest at the weekend that ‘something is not quite right’ between Phillips and Bielsa.

Dismissing those suggestions, Bielsa commented: “Kalvin Phillips is an idol for the Leeds United fans and a popular property with a lot of affection. The fans suffer when they lose an idol.

“Kalvin is a player who has done a lot of things to deserve how the fans feel about him.

“It is the conclusion of something very simple. It is very difficult to imagine that a player can never come out and be substituted from a team.

“The logic of football shows that in any game, any player can come off. It cannot be that a coach is conditioned that one player cannot come off.

“The explanation I gave (for the substitution) is one I thought. I thought that Pascal was better suited in the second half to Phillips. It doesn’t mean I am correct, but did what I thought was best.

“But in no way does that mean there is a difficulty with anyone.

“It is never good for a player or team to think that decisions are immovable and that hierarchies in a team cannot ever be altered.”

Last six games: Leeds DLWDLD; Crystal Palace DDWWDL.

Referee: K Friend (Leicestershire).

Last time: Leeds 2 Crystal Palace 0, February 8, 2021; Premier League.