WITH the clocks about to go back this weekend and almost a third of the Championship season having elapsed, most managers would be satisfied to be occupying a play-off place. But not Marcelo Bielsa.
Instead, the Leeds United chief describes his side’s league standing as a “lost opportunity”.
What’s more, Bielsa yesterday made it abundantly clear that any failure to improve on the dip in form that has seen 10 points taken from the last eight games will be solely down to him.
“For me it is not a satisfaction to be close to first place,” said the Argentinian ahead of tonight’s clash with Ipswich Town at Elland Road.
“It is a lost opportunity. In the first five games, we won four of them. In the last eight games, we only won twice. It is impossible not to see a problem in this case.
“We are trying to make the right diagnosis because, otherwise, any correction would be a mistake. We need to correct and we have to change this cycle of results. We have to find out the real reason for us not winning the games.”
At the beginning of the season, we needed two or three chances to score. Now, we need five or six chances and this is very important.Marcelo Bielsa
The most obvious reason, of course, for the victories drying up is goals. Or, more specifically, a lack of them.
Those opening five fixtures under Bielsa saw Leeds find the net 14 times. In those eight more recent outings, United have managed just nine goals. And a third of those came in last month’s home win over Preston North End.
In theory, tonight offers hope of that barren run being brought to an end. Ipswich have just one win to their name under Paul Hurst and have conceded 20 times.
To add to Sheffield-born Hurst’s woes, United will have to rediscover the clinical edge from the opening weeks that so put the wind up the rest of the Championship.
“From my point of view, the main reason is we need more chances to score one goal,” said Bielsa when expanding on why he believes United’s form has tailed off.
“At the beginning of the season, we needed two or three chances to score. Now, we need five or six chances and this is very important.
“You have other aspects, too, that I analyse and I analyse to see if I can change things. For example, in the first cycle of five games, two players were missing. Now, in each game six players are missing.”
Injuries to key players have hit Leeds hard, not least because Bielsa’s squad was quite thin in the first place.
Pablo Hernandez and Kemar Roofe both missed six or so weeks apiece, while Patrick Bamford – the club’s most expensive signing since Robbie Fowler in 2001 – is out until Christmas.
Bielsa has a couple of headaches tonight, too, with Luke Ayling’s return from a one-game ban being counter balanced by Barry Douglas still being absent with a hamstring injury.
Also missing from the starting XI will be Pontus Jansson, who was last night banned by the Football Association for one match following his post-match criticism of referee Jeremy Simpson live on Sky TV after the 1-1 draw with Brentford. The United defender, who has been in Sweden this week attending the birth of his daughter, was set to be named on the bench against the Tractor Boys before being hit with the ban. Jansson was also fined £1,000.
As for Bielsa, his focus is on getting back to winning ways. “All the teams have ups and downs,” he said.
“We can’t say we are good enough not to have ups and downs. Imagine if in the last eight games, we had four wins. We would be the leaders of the Championship.
“You will find also in the last eight games we played, it is not hard to imagine we could have won two more games.
“But one thing is to justify and one is to explain. I am explaining things. You can’t justify why you don’t get what you can get.
“I am just sharing with you my analysis and I am responsible for all of this. In each case, I insist a lot we improve as much we can the aspects I mention.”
United’s stumbles in recent weeks have brought back memories of last autumn, when a similarly impressive start to the season under Thomas Christiansen gave way to a gradual slide down the table.
The personnel may largely be the same but there does seem to be much more about Leeds this time around under Bielsa. Not that the 63-year-old was in any mood to agree yesterday when facing the media at Thorp Arch.
“I have the resources and the authority to improve in all the things I mentioned,” he said towards the end of a press conference that stretched beyond half an hour. “If I can’t do that, it will be my responsibility.”
Last six games: Leeds United WLDWDL, Ipswich Town DDDLWL.
Referee: C Pawson (South Yorkshire).
Last time: Leeds United 3 Ipswich Town 2; September 23, 2017; Championship.