Marcelo Bielsa does not like it when people try to compare Leeds United’s 2019-20 with last season but for those looking for signs the Whites can go one better and win promotion to the Premier League this time, it is hard to resist.
They have put themselves in a similar position a slightly different way - better defensively, less potent offensively. Something else they hope will be different is the visit of Hull City.
Grant McCann’s side may be nestled in mid-table but they are more than capable of upsetting the Championship’s big boys. Fulham and Preston North End have been hammered, Nottingham Forest, Sheffield Wednesday and Swansea City beaten too.
Last December, under Nigel Adkins, they came to Elland Road with Leeds unbeaten in seven matches and won 2-0. Patrick Bamford says the players better understand what is required of them in Bielsa’s second season, and it is showing in how hard to break down they have become.
“I was in the stands (injured) and to be honest I went into the game thinking we were going to win and it just shows you can never do that in football,” said the centre-forward.
“Each game represents a different challenge. While there hasn’t been anyone that has jumped out ahead, there are so many good teams in the division. Each team has its difficulties.
Each game represents a different challenge. While there hasn’t been anyone that has jumped out ahead, there are so many good teams in the division. Each team has its difficulties.Leeds United’s Patrick Bamford
“We’ve got to show respect to the opposition but also keep our confidence without having over-confidence.”
There seems to be a better understanding of what Bielsa wants.
“Last year he learnt more about us as players that he could take into this season,” argued Bamford.
“We’re more used to the way he wants to play and the drills we do but it’s all about repetition and making sure it’s etched in your brain so that it comes as second nature.
“As we keep doing that it will just become more apparent.
“Rather than drifting away from his style of play sometimes and not getting across the style of play he wants, I think you’ll see more consistency as time goes by.”
Bielsa says it has allowed him to be more hands-off, but there are limits.
“There’s still a lot of mistakes that need to be corrected,” stresses Bamford. “He’s a perfectionist.
“Huddersfield had a few chances late on (on Saturday), so whether it be concentration or little things we haven’t got right which we should be getting right, we can always learn. He’s always trying to improve us from the mistakes we’ve made.”
Leeds’s consistency this season starts on the team sheet. No Championship club has made fewer team changes.
The Whites have had important injuries – captain Liam Cooper has had niggling problems lately and will not play tonight, though Kalvin Phillips is back from a one-match ban.
Luke Ayling and Pablo Hernandez have also missed significant chunks and Adam Forshaw has not played since August. With their defensive set-up so solid and goalkeeper Kiko Casilla in terrific form behind them, those absences do not seem to affect what is quite a small squad.
“We are able to play without four or five players because we are used to having that number injured,” argues Bielsa. “Our players are used to our style of training.
“(Gaetano) Berardi, Phillips and Ayling are all used to playing centre-back so it’s not a big problem adapting if we miss Liam. After 18 months together we know how to do a lot of things.”
The best coaches and managers are able to produce dressing rooms which are self-policing, and Bamford says Leeds’s shows the right mentality at both ends of the age spectrum.
“With the experience we’ve got in the team, although Coops is the captain we’ve probably got five players who have a strong input into the dressing room,” he believes.
“I think Marcelo understands that and he knows when he has to say something, but he knows it’s not always going to be his place to step in.
“He knows we’re so desperate to win we can kind of control it ourselves when it’s needed and he steps in when necessary.
“It’s not just about the 11 players who play.
“I’m just going by the back of programmes but our squad’s quite small compared to a lot of teams but every player has a significant part to play, even the youngsters.
“He’s put that belief into every single player, even players who haven’t been in the squad know that if called upon they’re ready because he’s given them that confidence.”
Hull will put that confidence to the test tonight, but if Leeds can get through it with their winning sequence intact, that really will be cause for cautious optimism.
Last six games: Leeds United WWWWWW; Hull City WLDWLW.
Referee: David Webb (Lancashire).
Last time: Leeds United 0 Hull City 2, December 29, 2018, Championship.