Leeds United v Leicester City - Mutual trust helping Patrick Bamford to prosper
To do that, the Argentinian has set his centre-forward the challenge of finding greater consistency.
Getting Bielsa to express an opinion on anything as he looked forward to tonight’s match at home to Leicester City was only slightly easier than getting blood out of a stone but whilst resolutely refusing to push the 27-year-old’s case to represent his country this month, he did concede he can step up to another level as a player.
“He can improve,” Bielsa dropped his guard long enough to say. “Normally when a player matures, which is around this age, their qualities are defined. Bamford’s are too.
“But that doesn’t mean he can’t improve his game.
“There are a lot of players who have qualities but they are not able to show them on the field. The challenge for Bamford is to show his qualities on a regular basis.”
Certainly, Bielsa can see the forward’s self-belief growing after a start to the season no-one – perhaps not even the man himself – expected.
When Bamford joined Leeds, he was pigeon-holed as a player who could score goals in the Championship, but not the Premier League where his record was one in 27 matches. But that was earlier in his career, spread across loan spells with Crystal Palace, Norwich City and Burnley, plus a permanent stint with Middlesbrough.
The Whites spent a club record £27m this summer to upgrade their options at No 9 by signing Rodrigo, but while the Spain international was finding his feet, Bamford was scoring in his first three games of the season.
He opened the scoring at Villa Park last week with a predatory strike, but his next two finishes were ones only a player brimming with confidence would attempt. They earned him a first Leeds hat-trick.
“He’s had a normal week but it is true that when a striker scores goals his confidence increases,” said Bielsa when asked how Bamford had been around the Thorp Arch training complex since.
Bielsa has always been loyal to Bamford, even when large elements of the Leeds supporter-base have been lukewarm. He is not the most clinical of strikers – Leicester’s Jamie Vardy has converted 88 per cent of his chances compared to 55 per cent for Bamford in this season’s Premier League – but Bielsa expects his No 9 to contribute more in other areas than the man from Sheffield does.
Bamford is a selfless worker off the ball and leads his side’s high-energy pressing which is why Jean-Kevin Augustin and Eddie Nketiah – now competing strongly with Alexandre Lacazette to head Arsenal’s forward line – failed to make an impact in their half-season loans at Elland Road despite considerable clamour for them to be picked.
Even Rodrigo has largely had to settle for playing in the centre of midfield to get a game, although it must be said he has taken to the role very well.
As Bamford reiterated at Villa Park last week, the trust Bielsa has in him is important. “I don’t count the first lot (of Premier League appearances) because I was always playing two minutes off the bench, five minutes here and there,” he said. “This time I’ve got a manager who believes in me.
“As long as I keep working hard, he’ll keep trusting me so it’s up to me to make sure I keep helping the team as much as I can and I’m sure he’ll keep showing the faith.”
Of the English contingent, only Yorkshireman Calvert-Lewin – with eight goals in seven appearances – has outperformed Bamford in this season’s Premier League, and Gareth Southgate is expected to name his squad for this month’s games against the Republic of Ireland, Belgium and Iceland on Thursday.
Everton’s Calvert-Lewin, captain Harry Kane and Southampton’s Danny Ings seem certain to be included having been in this season’s first two squads but Bielsa, who has coached Argentina and Chile, was keen to stay out of the debate around whether or not Bamford should be, too.
“The national team manager looks at all the players that can play in a certain position and he has the possibility to compare them,” he said. “He would be the better person to draw this conclusion as he compares all the players while all the other (club) managers are just concentrated on their team.
“I would be very happy if Bamford is under consideration but I can’t have an opinion on it.
“To do this comparison is a very difficult task and there is a person responsible for taking these decisions. I would consider it wrong on my part to make a conclusion on his behalf.
“If you ask me whether Bamford is a good player I will tell you ‘yes’ but if you were to ask me to compare him to all the other English strikers I wouldn’t be able to.”
Tonight, Leeds must subdue another prolific English striker when they take on a Leicester side with Vardy, who retired from international football partly to maximise the final years of his club career, back to full fitness.
Like Leeds, the Foxes have made a strong start to the season – two points stronger, in fact – and Bielsa respects them and their star centre-forward.
“They’re a team who’ve been playing the same style of football for some time now,” he reflected. “All the teams in the Premier League are at a very high level and present similar challenges.
“But they’re a team who manage the ball well and have the spirit to attack. Vardy is a very good player who scores lots of goals and is very quick.”
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