Leeds United v Rotherham United: Marcelo Bielsa ensures no air of superiority at Elland Road

Praised: Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips.
Praised: Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips.
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LIKE many residents who hail from Argentina’s industrious and unpretentious second city of Rosario, boastfulness does not sit well with Marcelo Bielsa.

Respect for the underdog will always chime with Leeds United’s head coach and it was ever thus.

During his formative years in his home city, it was the glamour clubs of Buenos Aires who dominated the carve-up for Primera Division honours ahead of maiden triumphs in the first half of the Seventies for Rosario Central and his own club, Newell’s Old Boys.

In his managerial career, the 63-year-old also famously masterminded Athletic Bilbao’s run to the Europa League final in 2011-12, when they knocked out Manchester United en route to the Basque club’s first European showpiece since 1977.

So when talk turns to the next opponents that Leeds will face in Rotherham United, a side whose squad resources, support base and financial wherewithal is far removed from those advantages which his own club enjoys by comparison, there is a genuine appreciation and courtesy ahead of this particular Yorkshire derby this afternoon.

It would be churlish to say that Leeds are anything other than big favourites on the back of two trailblazing victories over Derby County and Stoke City which have earned much kudos and ‘spooked’ the rest of the Championship.

There are good times and bad times to play teams. Is it a good time to play Leeds at the moment with them in a really good run of form? Probably not.

Paul Warne

Millers manager Paul Warne is candid enough to admit that an away win or even a draw would constitute the proverbial ‘coupon-buster’ too.

But any notions of favouritism are not something that lay comfortably upon the experienced shoulders of Bielsa, with the eloquence in which he explains just why he disagrees with that concept displaying all the wisdom of a footballing luminary and deep-thinker.

Spekaing with an air of statesmanship, Bielsa said: “If you think we are favourites, you are supposing that we should feel superior to our opponent or that our opponent should feel inferior to us.

“These things are never decided before the game. It is better to demonstrate it than to say it. But regarding our team, before playing we never think we are inferior to any other team.

“Their (Rotherham’s) style is different. It is not the same as the first two opponents. They play long balls to the strikers and they do not play with the ball on the ground. This is the main difference, but it does not mean it is going to be like that.”

As a manager who always calls it as it is, Bielsa’s counterpart Warne is the first to acknowledge that his side face opponents on the crest of a footballing wave, with Leeds players and fans alike busy extolling the virtues of the Bielsa revolution.

The Championship grapevine is awash with incessant talk about the peerless way that Leeds have started the season, with the sustained high-intensity and energy of their dazzling performances having earned particular reverence from the discerning eye of Warne, a long-serving fitness coach before taking the managerial reins at Rotherham.

Warne said: “They have started the season really well and played three games and won them convincingly and the fans have got right behind the players. It must be a brilliant place to play football at the moment.

“They are really dynamic and press really high and love to play through the middle of the pitch. They are bright and the fittest team I have seen in a long time.

“They look like they are going to win and that is a great attribute to have. There has been a big turnaround in their psychology and physicality and you can see it. At the moment, it is reaping the rewards.

“There are good times and bad times to play teams. Is it a good time to play Leeds at the moment with them in a really good run of form? Probably not. But if you look at the positive side of it, they might go into it over-confident.

“Not many people will put us on their coupon on Saturday and they are the challenges we have to accept this season and thrive on. We are looking forward to the game, there is no pressure on us and, hopefully, we can go and cause an upset.”

In terms of the intensity, energy and dynamism which Bielsa patently demands from those who put on a Leeds shirt, perhaps no-one has followed his messages more intently than a rejuvenated Kalvin Phillips, who appears to represent the very embodiment of the Argentine’s brave new world at Elland Road.

The Leeds-born player has proved the fulcrum for United’s free-flowing start to the season, breaking up opponents’ play and starting offensive moves with an eye-catching ferocity, with his qualities as a deep-lying midfield player duly recognised by a footballing technocrat in Bielsa, whom you sense does not impart high praise wantonly and too easily.

“It is hard to find another player who can do the same job as Phillips,” commented Bielsa.

“I think (Mateusz) Klich, (Adam) Forshaw and (Conor) Shaughnessy, with different profiles, they could play as defensive midfielders.

“Klich has the capacity to score goals, but he has less predilection for the defensive play than Phillips. Forshaw is a complete player, but he does not have the physical dimension that this position requires.”

This afternoon in front of a near sell-out crowd will represent the first experience of a Yorkshire derby for Bielsa, weaned on one of the most intense rivalries in South American football, the legendary Sante Fe derby between Rosario Central and Newell’s Old Boys, known colloquially as Clasico Rosarino.

Central, founded by British railway workers in 1889, and Newell’s, started by an English schoolteacher in 1903, have a mutual hostility that stretches to their nicknames with Newell’s called “Lepers” and Central refered to as“Knaves”.

The antipathy between Leeds and the Millers is nothing like as fierce, with it representing a derby with a small ‘d’ in comparison with both Yorkshire sides having more consequential county rivals, but it is still a status that the conscientious Bielsa will respect today.

“We have additional passion during derbies. The result has an impact on the fans and, obviously, we will take this reality into account,” observed the Leeds head coach.