Leeds United v Wolves - Marcelo Bielsa is fine-tuning Premier League machine

Raphinha: Could figure against Wolves. Picture: Getty ImagesRaphinha: Could figure against Wolves. Picture: Getty Images
Raphinha: Could figure against Wolves. Picture: Getty Images
Sometimes under Marcelo Bielsa, Leeds United signings can be slow burners.

Not helped by an international break, Diego Llorente is yet to kick a ball for them four weeks after arriving. A club record fee was lavished on Rodrigo but Patrick Bamford’s form means he has rarely been seen in his best position. Both Spaniards will have important parts to play but learning Bielsa’s demanding methods is not always a quick process. Tactically and physically, ‘Bielsaball’ is hard work.

But the most recent of Leeds’s new faces, Brazilian winger Raphinha, could make his debut at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers tonight. Perhaps not from the start – like Bamford, Helder Costa has stepped his game up in the opening weeks of the season, and Jack Harrison almost always gets the nod when available – but Bielsa has seen something he likes in a player he has only been working with a fortnight.

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The Argentinian coach is a little like one of those car fanatics who loves nothing more than stripping down an old motor to tinker with it, searching for little improvements here and there.

He casually drops into his press conference the idea of turning Raphinha into an attacking central midfielder, a role Rodrigo successfully adapted to whilst Pablo Hernandez was injured. Bielsa has eyes on developing Llorente into someone who can play as a holding midfielder, as fellow centre-back Pascal Struijk already has for him. Robin Koch’s ability to play there was also noted.

That, though, is for the longer-term, and the arrivals of a host of youngsters alongside Raphinha, Rodrigo, Koch and Llorente shows a 65-year-old coach who renews his contracts annually is thinking that way. For now, he believes sporting director Victor Orta has found a player he can more or less take straight off the shelf and fit comfortably into his unusual and highly effective – and attractive – style of play.

“If the game was today, he would be in the group,” said Bielsa as he addressed the media over Zoom on Friday. “His adaptation has been very quick – instant.

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“For this I thank Victor Orta as he is a player who is able to adapt very easily to our style of play.”

Orta has had a good transfer window, certainly in Bielsa’s eyes.

Rodrigo’s adaption to the job, highlighted by his equaliser against Manchester City, made the need for cover for Hernandez less pressing so seeing nothing they fancied in the market – at least not at the right price – Leeds moved on. Bielsa declared himself “totally satisfied” with the new tools Orta has given him.

With Hernandez fit again, it will be interesting to see if £27m Rodrigo is back on the bench. He has also played wide, but perhaps Raphinha might be next in line should Costa or Harrison be flagging.

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“He’s an additional alternative to the right-wing position, left-wing position and eventually to the central offensive midfield position but fundamentally he is a winger who can play on the right or the left,” is Bielsa’s very clinical assessment of his latest addition.

Anyone who enjoys tinkering with cars will probably say you need to give them a good run before deciding how you have done.

Leeds had their foot down before October’s international break, 4-3 scorelines going either way against Liverpool and Fulham. They won a tight derby at Sheffield United and took a point from Manchester City.

“What happens in four games is not extensive enough to draw conclusions especially as the games against Liverpool, Manchester City and Sheffield United could all have had different endings,” cautions Bielsa.

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“Whilst the points (seven) give you a position in the table, they don’t tell you the tendencies in these games. We will know more as the Premier League goes on.”

Ditto his tweaked squad.

“How much we have improved will be measured throughout the whole season,” he says. “Koch has been a continued presence, Rodrigo is slowly increasing the minutes he contributes. Llorente and Raphinha have yet to play.

“In a league as long as demanding as the Premier League everyone will get the chance to show their qualities and contribute. Pascal, (Ian) Poveda and (Leif) Davis, who have been through the Under-23s and Tyler Roberts, who is a young player and the four new signings will be able to cover the absences of (Gaetano) Berardi, (Adam) Forshaw (recovering from long-term injuries), (Barry) Douglas (who joined Blackburn Rovers on a season-long loan on Friday) and (Ben) White (back at Brighton and Hove Albion after an impressive loan).”

First impressions only take you so far with Bielsa, but a good one cannot do any harm.

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Last six games: Leeds United DWWDLW; Wolverhampton Wanderers WLLLWL.

Referee: D Coote (Nottinghamshire)

Last time: Leeds United 0 Wolverhampton Wanderers 3, March 7, 2018, Championship.

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