Pascal Struijk was sent off against Liverpool on Sunday not for anything he intended to do, but because the follow-through from his tackle left 18-year-old midfielder Harvey Elliott with a fractured dislocated ankle.
Elliott has since said he did not think it was a red card offence but referee Craig Pawson, his video assistant Peter Kirkup and the panel who rejected Leeds’s appeal thought otherwise, enforcing the rule that allows players to be sent off for endangering an opponent regardless of their intentions. It has been widely accepted Struijk won the ball cleanly and did not intend to hurt Elliott.
Bielsa never likes to criticise referees but would like them to explain to his players and supporters what they should do instead.
“The referees’ job is very difficult and I have to support them by being understanding of the decisions they make,” he said.
“If ever there’s a league that values the nobleness of the player it’s this one. You saw the commitment of the player. Pascal’s recovery to win that ball despite the fact we were losing 2-0 was highly prized by the public.
“The public praises commitment and punishes those who are timid – it shouldn’t be any other way. So it’s important for them to know when the rules limit players making an extreme effort to recover the ball.
“Pascal made an extreme effort to prevent (Mohamed) Salah from scoring a goal (in the 48th minute) prior to the sending off.
“It would be useful if it was reaffirmed that challenges that generate an injury by chance produce a sending off or if there’s any other explanation.
“There’s a very accessible response: the imprudence or excessive force of Struijk (deserved a red card) compared to the argument of something happening by chance.
“There are very fine margins in the rules.
“The majority of situations similar to this one don’t generate the consequences this one generated.
“It would be very useful for all of us if it is explained how to avoid accidental consequences because clearly they are punished.
“Excessive strength shouldn’t be considered as in this case it wasn’t excessive or imprudent. It wasn’t possible to calculate that the attempt Pascal made to recover the ball would generate that injury.
“That’s not to say those who judge don’t have solid arguments which is why I propose an explanation not so much for me but for the public, who ultimately judge the players.”
Struijk was only on the field because of Diego Llorente’s muscle injury but Bielsa seemed relaxed about his lack of centre-backs, with Luke Ayling filling in effectively there last season.
“Of the four (senior) centre-backs we have, we are not able to count on Diego, Pascal or (Robin) Koch but we’re able to resolve the issue,” he said.
Koch has not played since the season’s opening weekend because of a pelvic injury. No timescale has been put on his return. Struijk is suspended for three matches.
Ayling moved into central defence on Sunday and is likely to start there at St James’ Park, with either Stuart Dallas or Jamie Shackleton at right-back. Mateusz Klich was an unused substitute against Liverpool.
So was Charlie Cresswell, a centre-back but an 18-year-old whose only senior appearance came in the League Cup at the start of last season.
If Newcastle play 3-5-2 as they usually have this season, Leeds will play a a back three with midfielder Kalvin Phillips most likely to drop in.