MARCELO BIELSA insists that Leeds United will not be forced into the transfer market by a worrying selection crisis – and remains confident in his ability to find in-house solutions to keep the Whites’ promotion bandwagon on course.
The Championship leaders, who have lost their last three matches in all competitions, host Derby County tomorrow evening – and could be without seven players against the sixth-placed Rams.
They include talismanic midfielder Pablo Hernandez, doubtful with a thigh problem.
Barry Douglas, Patrick Bamford, Gaetano Berardi, Stuart Dallas and Izzy Brown will definitely miss out with injury, with Kalvin Phillips suspended.
With Samu Saiz, Jamal Blackman and Lewis Baker not part of United’s plans for the rest of the season, Leeds’s squad options look significantly diminished as they approach a critical stage of the season.
Despite a host of players being unavailable tomorrow, head coach Bielsa says he will not hide behind the situation as an excuse, should Leeds fail to pick up three points.
The Argentine is equally emphatic in his declaration that the club will also not bring in new signings just for the sake of it and is adamant that the club will only bring in players who are better than the ones they already have.
Bielsa, who has been afforded one spot of welcome news with captain Liam Cooper available again following a knee ligament injury, said: “We are lacking 10 players. If the club can bring in players, it will be only if they are better than the players that we have.
“In the next few weeks, we will have Dallas, Berardi, Phillips, Brown, Bamford and Douglas with us, so among the 10 absences, we will have a reduction.
“That is why I clearly say that if nobody comes, we will solve the problems anyway.
In the next few weeks, we will have Dallas, Berardi, Phillips, Brown, Bamford and Douglas with us, so among the 10 absences, we will have a reduction. That is why I clearly say that if nobody comes, we will solve the problems anyway.Leeds United head coach, Marcelo Bielsa
“We have the obligation to win the next game and we can win the next one. We have just lost the last three games. The last one we deserved to lose, but the two Championship games, we did not.
“So we have no excuses not to win against Derby County.”
The potential absence of Hernandez, who tops the Championship assists chart with 10 so far this term – represents the gravest concern for United ahead of the game with Derby, who can cut the gap between themselves and Leeds to five points if they triumph at Elland Road.
Further testament to the Spanish play-maker’s influence is that Leeds won just two league games out of seven during his near two-month injury absence in the autumn.
On the prognosis regarding Hernandez, Bielsa said: “It will be very hard for him to be available for the next game.
“I cannot say 100 per cent he will not play. But if there is even a small doubt, I would not like to take any risks with him, so he gets injured again.
“I think if it was up to him, he would play the game.”
Should Hernandez miss out, Tyler Roberts will feature in the number 10 role following his encouraging performance in that position in Sunday’s FA Cup exit at Queen’s Park Rangers.
The United chief added: “He had three chances to score, so it is very good for a number 10.
“Then in the building of the offensive play, he did not have the same impact. But he was an influence because he was involved in three chances to score.
“Pablo builds the attacks. Tyler is more focused on finishing the attacks.”
Meanwhile, Bielsa has revealed he told loan midfielder Baker that he wanted to keep him – and possibly re-sign him again next season – ahead of the player’s decision to quit Yorkshire and return to parent club Chelsea due to a lack of game-time.
The 23-year-old has moved straight back out on loan to Championship rivals Reading.
Baker made just two league starts for Leeds in an unsatisfactory spell which prompted Chelsea’s decision to recall him from his season-long loan.
It constitutes Baker’s third unsuccessful loan stint in Yorkshire after earlier frustration at Middlesbrough and Sheffield Wednesday.
Bielsa observed: “He was always inside the group, even if it is true that he has not played a lot.
“Maybe he felt that we did not value him at the right level. The only time I talked to him about this subject, not only did I tell him I wanted him to stay with us, I (also) told him that we wanted him to stay for the next year.
“He has obviously taken another decision. He had legitimate expectations.
“The last game in the FA Cup, he had a good performance and this was the starting point for his development.”
The availability of Cooper, sidelined since suffering knee ligament damage in the derby win at promotion rivals Sheffield United on December 1, does at least provide Bielsa with one positive development heading into tomorrow night’s game.
He said: “I went to see the (under-23s) game against Hull City. He (Cooper) played an hour, using good conditions to come back to the team.
“He has a very good first pass, is good in the air and he is our captain. He deserves to be our captain.
“When he is inside the team, he provides us with a stronger team.”