Liverpool v Leeds United: Marcelo Bielsa comes out fighting over Robin Koch injury while making case for the defence

Marcelo Bielsa displayed passion and perhaps even a touch of persecution complex as he defended Leeds United’s handling of Robin Koch at the weekend.

The Whites as a club have traditionally fed off the perception they are unloved by elements of the footballing public and harshly treated by the establishment, and there has been a backs-to-the-wall feel about the defence of their actions in allowing the German to play on against Manchester United with what later transpired to be concussion.

Bielsa will hope his players show the same stubborness in defence when they take on Liverpool’s all-powerful attack tonight on the back of hitting the 50-goal mark for goals against on Sunday.

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Koch will miss the game and according to the graduated return to play protocol, the matches against Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City too, despite Bielsa describing his condition as “perfect” as of yesterday morning.

Leeds United's Robin Koch has his head injury tended to during Sunday's defeat to Manchester United before going off a short while later after complaining of feeling dizzy Picture: Simon Hulme.

Bielsa’s defence of his club only doubled down on what Leeds said the previous day but he spoke with unusual passion and even brought up “Spygate” and Pascal Struijk’s harsh red card when Liverpool visited Elland Road in September. For the second press conference running, he mentioned how injuries (to Koch and Kalvin Phillips) hampered his side in the 4-2 defeat to Manchester United – a very valid excuse but one he rarely reaches for.

Whether this latest controversy sharpens Bielsa appetite to fight or his weariness with it makes him more likely to take flight back to Argentina is significant with his annual contract renewal due in the summer.

The players’ union has joined concussion campaigners including brain injury charity Headway in criticising Leeds for not erring more on the side of caution when Koch suffered a head wound after a clash with Scott McTominay 12 minutes into Sunday’s game. Football Association protocols say a player should be permanently removed from the game if there is a “suspicion” of concussion, but after four minutes of assessment and treatment, the Leeds medical team were satisfied there was not.

He was substituted in the 29th minute when he felt dizzy.

Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa barks orders from the touchline during Sunday's Premier League defeat to Manchester United. Picture: Simon Hulme.

The reason for the criticism is that second impact syndrome – a rare condition where players not yet recovered from a concussion suffer another – is usually fatal but Bielsa thinks too much has been made of the incident.

“The prevention of knocks to the heads of the players is very serious, very important, and can generate real dramas but it’s also true you shouldn’t dramatise situations that don’t deserve to be interpreted in the way this situation has been,” he said.

“If there’s something the medical staff at Leeds have done and I, as an extension of those decisions, it’s to abide strictly by the rules about Covid, knocks to the head, or any other case.

“If there’s any club that’s acted impeccably with regards to health, it’s Leeds. I have no capacity to evaluate the rules. They tell me what the rules are and I abide by them.

Leeds United defender Robin Koch leaves the Elland Road pitch with a head injury during Sunday's Premier League defeat to Manchester United Picture: Simon Hulme.

“After what happened with Derby County (when Leeds were punished for spying on their opponents’ training before a January 2019 Championship game) I’ve made myself completely strict in making sure I abide by all the rules and there’s been a lot of injustice I haven’t mentioned.”

Bielsa explained Leeds replaced Koch with a regular, rather than a concussion, substitute because the first diagnosis was simply a cut and “I stayed with the initial position with the absurd idea of not wanting to abuse the rules.”

Bielsa complained about the lack of comment about whether McTominay deserved a red card for the clash, one of six fouls given against the Scotland international, but said he “celebrated” that decision because the clash of heads was unintentional. He then invoked the red card Struijk received for the tackle which saw Harvey Elliott break his leg in September.

“A very important conclusion this (Koch) episode leaves is that even as grave as the foul a player can commit, if he doesn’t have the intention of committing it, he shouldn’t be severely punished, like for example how Pascal was punished against Elliott.

Leeds United's Adam Forshaw will deputise in the holding midfield role against Liverpool at Anfield on wednesday night. Picture: Tony Johnson

“Of course that’s where the excessive use of force comes into play but it’s the intention behind it also. Our conduct in the face of this (Koch) incident is the same Elliot had in that moment. There was no bad intention and Pascal didn’t deserve to be punished.

“Here it is exactly the same, but the opposite way around.”

Adam Forshaw will deputise in holding midfield in the absence of Koch and Phillips, due back from a hamstring injury next month, and Bielsa hinted the door was open for Raphinha to be recalled in the reshuffle after scoring Leeds’s second goal from the bench on Sunday.

The biggest focus, though, will be quickly addressing the defensive issues exposed once more.

“We’re the team with the second most conceded and I have to make account of this because I’m the one responsible for the team,” said Bielsa. “I wanted to explain that in the game against Manchester that we weren’t able to count on Phillips, Koch and Pascal, the three players who take on that role of defensive midfielder to solidify the team.

“Strangely, the fourth player that occupies that position is the best player in the second half, Forshaw.

“The structure I generated has conceded 50 goals and you have to analyse why – what are the real reasons? – to prevent this from happening. That’s my function and when you’ve played this amount of games and you’ve condeded this amount of goals, the conclusions are clear.

“The sin of the coaches is that we try to intervene too much and I’m a big part of that.”

Last six games: Liverpool WWWWWW, Leeds United LLDLWL

Referee: M Oliver (Ashington)

Last time: Liverpool 4 Leeds United 3, September 12, 2021, Premier League