MARCELO BIELSA admits that handling the weight of expectation and yearning for success among Leeds United’s fans represents an ongoing challenge for his players.
Second-placed Leeds head into the Roses encounter with visiting Preston (5.15pm) on the back of a return of just one point from their last two matches, although they still hold a sizeable eight-point lead over the side just outside of the automatic promotion positions in Sheffield Wednesday.
The arrival of fifth-placed Preston is the second part of a testing festive schedule for Leeds, who lost out at fellow promotion contenders Fulham on Saturday.
A trip to Birmingham City follows on Sunday before Leeds visit leaders West Bromwich on New Year’s Day.
Last time out at Elland Road, Leeds inexplicably let a 3-0 lead slip en route to a dramatic draw with Cardiff City, with nerves and drama abounding in equal measure in a fraught finale.
Bielsa, who will be without midfield talisman Pablo Hernandez for the next month due to a hamstring injury he sustained at the weekend, said: “Yes, of course we feel it (when supporters get nervous).
“Everything that the supporters feel, we also feel on the pitch – players and staff and it is part of our job.
“We give the message every time we play. This is what we offer. If we have to give a message, it is to say ‘thank you for always being with us’.”
Despite disappointing results against Fulham and Cardiff, the setbacks have done little to dispel the notion that both Leeds and West Bromwich have been the Championship’s outstanding teams in 2019-20.
Bielsa remains a touch more circumspect in his analysis of the table and believes that there is not too much to chose from the teams in the top half of the division.
The Argentine said: “There are more teams with a similar level (this season).
“Performances of the teams are more similar between each other. At the moment, there is not one team making a big difference between the rest of the teams, from the middle of the table to first place.”
On Preston, denied victory in the reverse fixture on October 23 after Eddie Nketiah netted a late leveller, Bielsa added: “Preston are doing well. It ‘s a team who have kept their players, just with the transfer of the number seven (Callum Robinson).
“It is one team that had a bad moment and now are recovering and have a regular way of playing.”
Leeds face a Preston side who have taken seven points from the last nine available and have got back on track after a four-match losing sequence, with North End manager Alex Neil having also been enthused by his side’s form against several promotion contenders this season.
Neil said: “They (Leeds) are a good team, but as we have shown against the top teams, we only lost to West Brom with a poor decision at the end, we beat Fulham and drew with Leeds and could have won that one as well.”
Last six games: Leeds WWWWDL; Preston LLLWWD.
Referee: D Bond (Lancashire).
Last time: Leeds 3 Preston 0, September 18, 2018; Championship.