Marcelo Bielsa asks Leeds United to ‘play game in its best form’

Marcelo Bielsa accepts tactical fouls as part of the game but says they are not something he wants Leeds United to do because he strives for his teams to play football “in its best form”.

On Tuesday, Southampton’s Ralph Hasenhuttl accused the Whites of using tactical fouls to break up the play in their 3-0 Elland Road win over the Saints – although perhaps “accused” is not the best word because he seemed to say it with a degree of professional admiration and urged his own players to show the same “nastiness”.

“It’s tough to create chances against them because they are very clever, they always stopped our counter-attacks with a simple foul in midfield. They do it very smartly,” he said.

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Conceding innocuous fouls in low-risk areas of the pitch, with players sharing the responsibility to avoid bookings for persistent fouling, is sometimes levelled against another football purist and Bielsa disciple, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. It is a tactic which disrupts an opponent’s flow, and can stop counter-attacks at source.

Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa. Picture: PALeeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa. Picture: PA
Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa. Picture: PA

The Argentinian insists, however, it is not something he would ever tell his players to do.

“What the rules permit, we have to accept,” commented Bielsa. “But I would prefer to play the game in its best form.

“The rules can be used for the game to be fluid, which is the objective and what the rules were created for, to make the game more beautiful. But they can also be used, within what’s allowed, to make the game less beautiful and this is legitimate.”

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Bielsa saw no evidence of it from his Leeds players on Tuesday.

“If we made tactical fouls which stopped them from counter-attacking, I understand his comment, but I sincerely think we didn’t,” said Bielsa, whose side committed fewer fouls than Southampton.

“If you analyse the game and see where we committed the fouls, with who and in what situations, you will see if what he said is fair or not. I sincerely don’t think we did this but if the opponent’s coach says this, perhaps the one in the wrong is me.”

Leeds welcome Aston Villa tomorrow but for a fourth successive game without Kalvin Phillips as they try to take no risks with his calf injury. With Rodrigo missing with a groin problem and Mateusz Klich forced off injured against the Saints, the Whites could be without their entire first-choice central midfield.

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“His injury is in his calf, a place where we have to avoid a recurrence because that would make the situation worse,” said Bielsa of holding midfielder Phillips. “We’re being very cautious so that when he returns, he returns for definite.

“Klich is doing pretty well but Rodrigo and Kalvin won’t be available this weekend.”

When pressed on Klich’s availability, he added: “I don’t know.”

Jamie Shackleton is the most probable to step in for Klich, with Pascal Struijk likely to come out of defence to deputise for Phillips as Leeds revert from a back three to a four.

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Struijk will be able to do that partly because Diego Llorente appears to have come through only his second Premier League start unscathed – a relief in an injury-disrupted season. Leeds have not had a full compliment of fit defenders all season, but fellow Robin Koch – another centre-back signed in the summer to reinforce them – is making good progress after a knee injury.

“For a player who has had a recurrence of injury it was a big thing to have completed 90 minutes,” acknowledged Bielsa when asked about Spain international Llorente.

“(Koch) is within the margins that were expected.

“Koch is a player who’s very optimistic, very happy, very hard-working and very serious in taking up his responsibilities.

“I think he will be back with the same type of power and performances he had prior to his injury.”

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