Liverpool v Leeds United - Marcelo Bielsa lets his players do the talking

He did not quite manage it, revealing he had agreed a new contract the best part of 24 hours before Leeds United confirmed the one-year arrangement, but in the build-up to a huge day for his club, Marcelo Bielsa was doing his best to say as little as possible.

Tight-lipped - Marcelo Bielsa (Picture: Getty Images)

By and large, it was a masterclass in taciturnity.

No answer was longer than two sentences long, most did not stretch to that. Even Geoffrey Boycott on a “sticky dog” of a pitch would have struggled to dead-bat more resolutely.

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Bielsa was not here to entertain, he was here to do his job.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp following the trophy presentation at Anfield (Picture: PA)

The liveliest moment of the half-hour was when a rogue weather report broke across the ether to the silent bemusement of all concerned. Welcome to the wacky world of Zoom press conferences.

Even in such belligerent mood, though, there were a couple of nicks to the slips. Bielsa’s revelation – to no one’s great surprise but every Leeds supporter’s huge relief – that he was staying probably only highlighted just how inconsequential he thought his signing a new contract was. It has been buried at the bottom of his mental in-tray all summer long, a frivolity not worth his time when there are players to be signed, opposition DVDs to be watched, fitness sessions to oversee and tactical plans to be masterminded. Contract or no contract, his devotion to the cause has never wavered.

But his non-answer to an innocent long-hop about playing at Anfield – the home of the Premier League champions, the ground that once famously and sportingly saluted Don Revie’s 1969 title winners after Liverpool came second in a closely-fought race – hinted, perhaps accidentally, at his sorrow that a momentous day will have a slightly hollow feel.

“We’re going to play in Anfield, but Anfield is only Anfield if it is really full,” said Bielsa, through his new translator.

The opening-weekend meeting between the winners of the Premier League and the Championship is the big sporting event of the day. Even in this tight-lipped mood, Bielsa was moved to call it “a very special game”.

Not only is it important, it should be entertaining. In their own different styles, both teams tend to put on a show. The neutrals ought to be in for a treat.

Liverpool away is one of the first blue-riband events Leeds supporters would have looked for when the fixture list was published. The only time it has been played since October 2003 was a watered-down version in the League Cup four years ago when the Reds’ midfield included Kevin Stewart, recently released by League One Hull City.

Disappointingly, the terraces will be empty, save for the odd substitute, director and media man or woman relying events to those watching and listening from afar. The reasons why the authorities feel it necessary for the game to be played behind closed doors as the nation continues to wrestle with coronavirus are clear even if not everyone agrees, but the show must go on in some form or other.

How big a deal this game is for the inscrutable Bielsa is hard to tell with much certainty. He ticked La Liga and Ligue 1 off his list long ago but at least to our parochial eyes, the Premier League is something special. More than two years after he arrived in this country, it will be his first involvement.

“I’m very happy to participate in a league of such stature,” is as much as could be prised out of Bielsa.

Do not expect it to be emblazoned across any Sky Sports adverts any time soon.

“It’s the best league in the world and it always requires you to be at the highest level,” he would add.

But for Leeds, this evening’s game is undeniably big. No club has returned to the Premier League after such a long absence. Sixteen years feels like a lifetime.

“The club, the fans, the players all deserve to be playing in the Premier League,” said Bielsa.

As for what to expect from his team, four times he offered the forward defensive, saying he could not or did not want to predict what the season held for his players, but they will start it in good health, good heart and with two high-calibre internationals – Spain’s Rodrigo and Germany’s Robin Koch – added to the ranks.

“The team is in adequate fitness levels,” roared Bielsa. What a rallying cry.

They could not ask for a tougher examination of their credentials, a more rigorous test of their self-belief. Conventional wisdom has it that catching the top teams early is usually best but Liverpool’s 2019-20 finished earlier than most of the big boys, there are no significant signings to bed in and they had a run-out in the Community Shield to get back in the swing.

“They are a just champion with their consistent style of play,” said Bielsa approvingly. “Without a doubt it’s one of the best teams in the world.”

He will be nervous about facing them, but then “I always get nervous prior to a game. I worry when I’m not nervous.”

As for their charismatic manager, Jurgen Klopp: “Anything I say will just be repeating the praise he has already rightly received.”

Klopp’s “heavy-metal football” is admired the world over – is Bielsa a fan? “I haven’t got much culture in music so I wouldn’t know,” he replied, exasperatingly refusing to play ball.

Left to walk alone by a global pandemic, Leeds will have to do their talking on the pitch. That, at least, should be well worth tuning in for.

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James Mitchinson