Manchester City v Leeds United: ‘Rare’ injuries to Rodrigo and Pascal Struijk leave Marcelo Bielsa bemused

Marcelo Bielsa claims to be in the dark about reports Kalvin Phillips has undergone surgery, and bemused by injuries to Pascal Struijk and Rodrigo like few he has seen in a coaching career now into its fifth decade.

What is clear is that Leeds United’s injury problems are not clearing up ahead of tonight’s Premier League trip to Manchester City.

Bielsa was speaking hours after reports Phillips had undergone surgery to his hamstring tendon, with the suggestion in some quarters the talismanic midfielder’s recovery could keep him out until February.

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He is also still having difficulties from a shoulder dislocated last season, though they were manageable enough for him to be a key component of England’s run to the European Championship final.

Heel problem: Leeds United's record signing Rodrigo. Picture Tony Johnson

All the Argentinian coach would say on the matter is: “At the moment I have no precise news over his hamstring tendon or his shoulder.”

No further clarification was forthcoming from the club either.

Bielsa did elaborate on Struijk and Rodrigo, who missed Saturday’s 3-2 defeat at Chelsea along with Patrick Bamford, Liam Cooper and Robin Koch.

“The injury Pascal has is unusual,” he explained. “An explosive moment made two bones in his feet collide together and that doesn’t generate an injury - neither to bone, nor muscle, nor joint - but has the effect of a knock on his bone and that generates pain.

Unusual: Marcelo Bielsa says the injuries siffered by Rodrigo and and Paschal Struijk are rare. Picture Tony Johnson

“Until that pain disappears it’s going to prevent him from playing. In my whole career I’ve never seen an injury like that.

“The same as Rodrigo’s injury, an injury in his heel, which only disappears if the pain disappears, which I also haven’t seen in many years. The specialists who treated it say there’s very few cases like this.”

As a result, Bielsa will pick from the same squad he took to Stamford Bridge for a second game in four days at one of the Premier League’s title contenders. Leeds were unfortunate not to take any points at the weekend, when two debatable Jorginho penalties helped see the hosts to a 3-2 victory.

City’s injury news is more promising from their perspective, though the champions are not without their problems either.

Ruled out: Leeds United's Pascal Struijk (left) has a foot problem the like of which Bielsa says he has never seen before. Picture: Adam Davy/PA Wire.

Manager Pep Guardiola revealed he had only striker Ferran Torres injured, but defender Joao Cancelo is suspended for picking up a fifth booking this season and in keeping with an alarming number of Premier League clubs, City have reported a number of Covid-19 cases recently, though theirs appear confined to the coaching staff at present.

This week’s Premier League testing threw up 42 new positive cases, the highest weekly total of the pandemic and a big jump on the previous week’s 12.

Manchester United’s Premier League game against Brentford tonight is in doubt after the Red Devils were forced to close their training complex because of an outbreak.

Tottenham Hotspur’s match against Brighton and Hove Albion on Sunday, like Thursday’s Europa League group game against Rennes, was postponed because of Covid-19 cases in the squad. The same was true of Sheffield United’s televised Championship game against Queens Park Rangers.

The Rs pulled out of last night’s match because of the number of infections.

Bielsa and his opposite number Guardiola are huge admirers of one another and although Leeds won on their last trip to Eastlands despite losing Cooper to a red card late in the first half, their coach argues the challenge of facing City grows greater with every season.

“I don’t think we exploited fragilities or weaknesses in the games against them last season,” he reflected.

“At City I always see a constant evolution of the variables offensively. Players of different characteristics combine in different parts of the pitch. There’s so many combinations, players of different characteristics - central attackers out wide, offensive midfielders as attackers, offensive midfielders as wingers, different types of wingers, a tendency to make a diagonal (pass) in behind or dropping in, the contribution of the full-backs, the interpretation of the mixed (box-to-box) midfielder as one more offensive midfielder and a risk-taking from playing out from the back that is very good.

“The opponents play as a very recognisable team, their characteristics also.

“The amount of variants they use to attack means their offensive play has to be looked at collectively and not dissected individually.”

Meanwhile, the Whites have been allocated 8,900 tickets for January’s FA Cup third round trip to West Ham United. The Sunday game will be live on terrestrial television, yet Leeds are expected to sell them all.