Leeds United v Everton - Marcelo Bielsa lifts lid on what makes players great

Rodrigo: Big doubt.  Picture: Bruce RollinsonRodrigo: Big doubt.  Picture: Bruce Rollinson
Rodrigo: Big doubt. Picture: Bruce Rollinson
MOST observers would agree that the way in which Leeds United’s core of trusted Championship players have stepped up to the Premier League plate speaks volumes about the work of Marcelo Bielsa.

For his part, the United head coach is not the sort to bask in high praise.

He might provide technical and tactical instruction and enlightenment to his players and ensure they have the right conditioning, but it is the player who must triumph by virtue of their qualities, mindset and desire, in Bielsa’s view.

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In that regard, Leeds – seeking a third successive league victory tonight – seem blessed.

The squad has been augmented by the talents of Rodrigo – a big doubt for this evening’s game with Everton – and Raphinha, who has a more minor issue, yet remains heavily reliant on those who have previously played for most of their careers in England’s second tier.

The likes of Stuart Dallas, Luke Ayling, Kalvin Phillips and Patrick Bamford – mainstays under Bleisa – have all emphatically shown themselves to be serious Premier League players in a short space of time, along with others such as Illan Meslier, Jack Harrison and Mateusz Klich.

That so many players who Bielsa brought on in the Championship are now excelling in the biggest league in the world is surely a testament to his work.

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The Argentine has a different observation and delivers an anecdote from his homeland.

He commented: “To leave the state of comfort and to get out of the comfort and go above and beyond is not linked to a manager, but it is linked to the ambition of a player.

“I am going to give you an example from 40 years ago. I spent 10 years in the formation phase of football accompanying Jorge Griffa, who was an expert in this. In the club where I come from, Newell’s Old Boys, the formation and foundation of players was the most important thing.

“There were always young players with incredible ambitions. Young players who never managed to show their capabilities due to a lack of ambition.

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“There, we worked with five or six coaches and every time that a coach had that player that did not shine, every time another of the coaches would say: ‘Don’t worry, next year I will take the best out of him’.

“The player would go through the five coaches that accompanied Griffa, the player would not triumph and the conclusion, what was it?

“The conclusion was it is not how good the coach was, it is the ambition of the player and how much he wants it. Coaches do not make great players.

“The ambition, the character, the determination of a player is what allows them to be great players.

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“There is a lot of development in the technical and physical qualities that is very good. But there are few other resources to establish a better mindset and to increase the ambition of a player.”

The fact that, for three seasons running under Bielsa, Leeds have endured testing spells early on in a New Year, but produced a response of character on each occasion also paints his players in a thoroughly positive light.

After three successive defeats, including an embarrassing FA Cup exit at League Two outfit Crawley and a worrying home defeat to Brighton, Leeds have responded in a head-turning fashion by way of successive away victories at Leicester City and Newcastle United.

Tonight, United are eyeing their first double over Everton since 1990-91. It would represent another souvenir in a wholesome return to the top-flight.

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It is a season which has been pronounced for Leeds’s ability to press and win the ball back from their opponents, with data showing that they are currently the best at that particular aspect of football among Europe’s leading top-flight leagues in Germany, Spain, Italy, France and England.

Pressing is a huge part of modern football. For Bielsa, the methodology in choosing when to press is the true art and barometer of an intelligent footballer.

He commented: “In a study of the five biggest leagues in Europe, the team who invests the most time pressuring the opponent is Leeds. But that is not praise or something to single out.

“It is one thing to press and another thing is to press, recover the ball and find yourself in a position where the opponent is disorganised.

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“The observation that you make is true, us being conscious of the fact that we press so much. What we are trying to do is to make sure this effort that we are producing bears fruit.”

Tonight sees Leeds play their first home fixture on a new hybrid pitch ahead of a full-scale reconstruction of the Elland Road surface in the summer.

The surface was acquired from Tottenham Hotspur at a cost of £300,000 following criticism of the pitch in the recent game with Brighton.

Bielsa added: “How it is going to be, I do not know. But it does not matter too much, the important thing is to belong to an institution that worries so much about the needs of the team.”

Last six games: Leeds WLLLWW; Everton LWWWDL

Referee: M Oliver (Northumberland).

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Last time: Leeds 2 Everton 1, September 25, 2012; Capital One Cup.

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