Leeds United v Everton: Marcelo Bielsa aims to repay ‘defrauded’ fans at packed Elland Road

THERE were echoes of the late, great Jock Stein in the utterances of Marcelo Bielsa ahead of the return of a full congregation of Leeds United followers to their football cathedral this afternoon.

Famously, Stein once observed: “Without fans who pay at the turnstile, football is nothing. Sometimes we are inclined to forget that.”

It is something that Bielsa never would do.

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He will never forget Leeds and Leeds will never forget him and it is the devout hope of all those of a Whites persuasion that the working relationship lasts for a good while yet.

Quiet reflection: Leeds coach Marcelo Bielsa at Old Trafford. Picture: Tony Johnson

A humble man of modest means, Bielsa has regularly interacted with supporters on his daily business in Wetherby – on the occasions when he is not present at the club’s nearby training ground at Thorp Arch.

Autographs are signed and ‘selfie’ requests are never turned down.

Alongside his modesty, the sagacious 66-year-old has quickly learned to appreciate just how much Leeds means to its people.

It partly explains why he elaborated at great length in his pre-match press conference when asked about how he would lift his players after last weekend’s bruising 5-1 defeat at the team who Leeds followers like to beat more than any other in Manchester United.

Elland Road visitor: Everton manager Rafael Benitez.

Bielsa expertly pinpointed the technical reasons as to why Leeds failed to successfully implement their game plan at Old Trafford.

He also alluded to the psychological hurt of last weekend among supporters. His reference that fans would feel ‘defrauded’ by the events of seven days ago was striking.

A first full house of the current Premier League era at Elland Road provides a chance to repay a debt in the words of Bielsa.

The Argentine said: “One of the things that damages the most in a defeat like this is the expectations and the hopes the fans had for this game and it feels like we’ve defrauded them.

“And if there’s something that hurts a lot, it’s to disappoint, to not give what’s expected of us, so this produces suffering.

“The closeness of the (Everton) game, it gives you the option to make a comeback and pay that debt.

“Games like the one we lost on Saturday, it generates a hurt that is not easily cured and we don’t forget. But you can go putting forward new emotions that allow for this to be in the memory, but that stops it being present.

“The Premier League without fans and with fans is not the same – and the fans of Leeds are not the same as the majority of the other teams in the league, not only because it is the club that we belong to, but because of how generous and present they are in every game. So to live this experience is unique.”

The return of supporters may have provided a welcome splash of colour back to the most popular domestic league in world football, but as to whether it will have a determining factor on results, especially for home teams, Bielsa is not so sure.

In 380 Premier League matches played in 2020-21, on ‘occasions’ almost exclusively played out in front of empty, soulless arenas, there were 153 away wins and 144 at home.

With top-flight supporters allowed back into stadiums last week, seven out of 10 home sides, on matchweek one, emerged victorious.

Bielsa commented: “There’s some data that (says) without the public, the home side wins less. The statistics confirm this.

“With me in particular, the absence of fans permitted greater communication between the players and technical staff.

“But the effect of the crowd when we play away, I don’t consider it a determining factor with regards to our performances. The effect that it has for our opponents – I can’t measure that.”

The tactical battle between two coaching grandees of world football in Bielsa and Rafa Benitez is a subplot to a fascinating match-up which offers plenty this afternoon.

It provides a clash of styles, although both micro-manage their teams in their own way.

Bielsa’s teams are relentless, bold and beguiling. By contrast, Benitez prides himself on organisation to the nth degree, balance and defensive structure. A pragmatist, by nature.

Honours may have been even last season with Leeds winning at Goodison Park and Everton squaring the ledger with a rare triumph at Elland Road – just their second on 39 league visits – but the Yorkshire club were afforded the higher ground.

Leeds’ success on Merseyside last autumn was the equivalent of a 1-0 beating, with a chastened Carlo Ancelotti admitting his side were second best by a street.

In the return, Everton profited from two moments of sloppiness to lead 2-0 before Leeds found themselves and produced an in-character second half before narrowly losing out 2-1.

Bielsa could take more from both his side’s performances than Ancelotti. But this is a new season. The question remains. Is it a new Everton under Benitez?

Bielsa added: “Sincerely I can’t remember if we have come up against each other, both of us have been professionals for a long time. What has made him successful is he puts together a very compact team, difficult to beat and he always manages to get the maximum out of the players he manages.

“There hasn’t been complete changes with regards to the players. The players are basically the same apart from the two wide players they brought in.

“And the changes that I expect are those that I expect with Benitez that his teams are efficient, strong and hard to beat.”