Marcelo Bielsa eyes response after ‘sad week’ at Leeds United

IMPROVING players and teams has never been just a job to Marcelo Bielsa, but more of an all-consuming vocation in life.

For the Leeds United head coach, fixing problems that pop up during times of adversity issomething he values more than the pursuit of glory. He is a technician and a teacher and rightly considered by many in the global game to be the ‘coach’s coach’.

His Leeds side are, somewhat rarely in his tenure, in a difficult moment ahead of Saturday’s home game against Wolves, when the Argentine will again be without Kalvin Phillips, Patrick Bamford, Luke Ayling, Robin Koch and Junior Firpo.

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They also head into the game on the back of arguably the poorest display of his time at Elland Road in last Saturday’s meek 1-0 loss at Southampton; certainly the most abject performance, – individually and collectively – since the club returned to the Premier League, for sure.

Leeds Unted head coach Marcelo Bielsa. Picture Bruce RollinsonLeeds Unted head coach Marcelo Bielsa. Picture Bruce Rollinson
Leeds Unted head coach Marcelo Bielsa. Picture Bruce Rollinson

Bielsa admits that a hard week has followed in its wake, but an important one all the same amid much analysis and corrective work with players at Thorp Arch; a place where Bielsa micro-manages everything.

He commented: “Yes, it has been one of the most difficult (weeks). Perhaps there have been five or six (at Leeds), but this was one of the most difficult.

“The complexity of a week prior to a game is evaluated depending on how far away we were in the last game to play to our capabilities. In the game like the one in Southampton, the distance between what we were looking for and what we achieved was very far and that was deserved, so for me it was a very sad week.

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“But in a parallel way, when errors are made – and I know the errors that we made and know they could have been avoided if I had managed it more efficiently – you must show a lot of energy, strength and willingness to avoid it happening again and to come back from the situation.”

Unlike another venerable figure in world football and someone who he knows well in former Netherlands, Real Madrid and Ajax manager Leo Beenhakker, Bielsa has never been one to turn a page and quickly move on or gloss over a defeat. It is simply not his style – perish the thought – and neither is singling out individual players for criticism either with responsibility for poor performances being a collective one.

Bielsa continued: “I managed at Americas in Mexico after an extraordinary coach in Leo Beenhakker. I came after him and when I am always at a club where the previous manager was a great one, I ask questions about how it was. What makes a manager big is how they manage the bad moments, not how they get to the good moments.

“In the great moments, the players are usually exclusively responsible for them, but the bad moments demand some management, so I would ask what would Leo do after a bad defeat?

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“Immediately after the game he would tell everybody, the players, the technical staff and everyone that surrounds the team that this game was very bad and from tomorrow onwards we don’t talk about this game again. But my idea is the opposite, that you have to look over the errors, so you don’t make them again.

“The first thing that a team does when they are in a negative moment is to avoid the mistakes that made you play worse.

“The second thing that is very important is that every player feels that any error that he makes – and that produces negative consequences for the play of the team – knows that he is not going to be singled out or made responsible for that error, but that the group is going to find a solution for the error that was made.”

Talismanic midfielder Phillips will miss a second league game for fourth-from-bottom Leeds tomorrow and while his recovery from a calf issue is going well, Bielsa has never been someone who will restore a player to his match-day plans unless they are at the optimum level he demands.

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The return of Raphinha – his late arrival back from Brazil duty ensured he was not involved at Southampton – will at least assuage Leeds fans rather more.

Bielsa, whose side follow up tomorrow’s game with a crunch trip to lowly Norwich City on Saturday week, added: “Kalvin is healthy. But he hasn’t competed for three weeks. If he played on Saturday, it would be far too quick.

“After three weeks out, it is necessary for some more football training and in this stage he has done training sessions for recovery and physical preparation and progressive work with the ball and I think that to think of him for Saturday would be to bring him back too soon before he is back at his complete best.

“Ayling and Bamford are not going to be here for the next two games. Raphinha is back and has acclimatised back on his return to England. And Koch still has at least one month to go.

“Firpo is evolving quickly and well. I couldn’t tell you exactly how long he has left but the next two games, no (he won’t play). But from Norwich onwards, he has chances of being back in the team.”

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