Marcelo Bielsa and Leeds United happy to play by the rules

LEEDS UNITED’S stylish brand of attacking football has won legions of admirers since their return to the Premier League.

Their ability to get on with things and not bemoan their lot at a time when the integrity of the league has been thrown into question following a number of controversial postponements due to Covid cases, injuries, suspensions and Africa Cup of Nations absentees is also earning them additional friends.

Current rules dictate that top-flight games can be postponed if a team is unable to field 13 outfield players and one goalkeeper from its squad. It includes any Under-21 players with ‘appropriate experience’.

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The Premier League is set to reconsider its rules on postponing games following the furore surrounding several recent postponements, including last Sunday’s scheduled derby between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal.

Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa. Picture Bruce Rollinson

Spurs said they were “extremely surprised” that Arsenal had succeeded in having the match put back when only one member of their squad had Covid at the time of their request last Friday.

Reports suggest that a Premier League meeting will be called with all 20 top-flight clubs after the next round of fixtures to discuss potential rule changes.

Last weekend, Leeds were without nine players at West Ham and suffered two injuries during the match. They had a 15-year-old substitute on the bench in Archie Gray – grandson of ex-United player Frank and great-nephew of club legend Eddie.

Leeds have already made history by becoming the first-ever Premier League team to hand debuts to eight teenagers in a season.

It reflects well upon Marcelo Bielsa and more especially his ability to problem-solve and not panic with his Leeds side heading into tomorrow’s crucial game with Newcastle United on the back of one of the most remarkable top-flight wins of 2021-22 – in Sunday’s success at West Ham.

Rest assured, Leeds are likely to require more of Bielsa’s innate ability to find answers in-house before the season is out.

He said: “We have asked for games to be suspended when the rules gave us the opportunity. We haven’t asked to suspend games when we haven’t had the reality which would allow it to happen.

“It is true that we have used younger players to integrate our teams. To have young players who are part of the formation every weekend has its value.

“The group is completed and integrated with young players who are in development.

“If the club had decided not to count them, the club should have signed four, five, six players who are older and have a bigger background.

“But the real important thing is to manage to create Premier League players. What I think should be judged, or what’s going to be registered as a contribution to the club, is how many of the players who are with the team or accompanying the team, convert themselves into habitual or regular players in the team.

“For example, if (Joe) Gelhardt and (Leo) Hjelde are one of two options for the position they play for many years, that would mean they have converted themselves into Premier League players.

“But that is still in development, that still hasn’t been confirmed – they are taking steps.”

The ability to consistently find answers to the ‘puzzle’ – in the absence of senior players in a campaign which has not been straightforward has been the story of 2021-22 for Leeds and Bielsa.

They had hoped that Patrick Bamford would be back in the mix tomorrow after recovering from a hamstring problem. A separate foot issue means that he will not be; it has been that sort of season for the striker.

Adam Forshaw and Junior Firpo (both hamstring) will also be absent among an injury count that also includes Liam Cooper and Kalvin Phillips, Jamie Shackleton and Charlie Cresswell.

Better news sees Diego Llorente return from suspension while Gelhardt, Rodrigo and Tyler Roberts are available.

Typically, Bielsa does not lament the situation. The word he uses to describe it is ‘intriguing’ when asked if Leeds’s injury issues this term are the worst he has experienced in management.

That he chose to describe it in that way is very typical of him.

On whether it is the most disruptive year he has had with a specific number of players being unavailable, Bielsa commented: “Not with so many players, but it is very intriguing.

“Not so much with how many injuries, but that the players who are injured are those who play in similar positions. In some way, we have always found solutions.

“It is likely that for the game on the weekend that we are going to recover Rodrigo, Roberts and Gelhardt. So the players out of the squad in that position are going to be Bamford and Sam Greenwood.

“Progressively, we have been resolving situations that present themselves.

“The same with the (defensive) absence of Pascal (Struijk), Cooper, Diego and (Robin) Koch. “

Bielsa’s words provide further evidence, should anyone require it, that Leeds are in good hands.