Sheffield United v Leeds United: Chris Wilder v Marcelo Bielsa is pure clash of heavyweights

Marcelo Bielsa.
Marcelo Bielsa.
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BOXING fans may be licking their lips in anticipation over tomorrow’s Wilder v Fury clash but closer to home it is another battle of the heavyweights that is most capturing the imagination.

Wilder v Bielsa deserves top billing, as the unheralded scrapper who has fought his way up from the bottom goes toe to toe with a champion lauded by the likes of Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino.

Neither Sheffield United nor Leeds United will be able to land a knockout blow at Bramall Lane. Not with the Championship season yet to reach the halfway stage.

But, make no mistake, this 79th meeting of two old Yorkshire foes offers the chance to inflict lasting damage on a major rival in the quest to reach the Premier League.

In attempting to land that blow, neither side is expected to hang back and Mateusz Klich, the Leeds midfielder, believes this could make tomorrow’s derby genuine Box Office fare.

“I expect a tough game and a very open game,” said the Polish midfielder to The Yorkshire Post. “Sheffield United will want to attack and they will play forward as well.

“I think there is going to be goals – maybe not like this week at Aston Villa (who drew 5-5 with Nottingham Forest). But there will be goals.

“It is going to be more like the Derby and Norwich games (which Leeds won 4-1 and 3-0 respectively earlier in the season).

“They tried to attack us and that was good for us because it meant we had space to attack them as well. We won those two games playing like that and I hope we are going to win this one as well.”

Klich’s assertion that the two teams will look to be on the front foot seems a safe one.

That is how both Chris Wilder and Marcelo Bielsa have approached every game this season.

Whether the pair have a little something extra up their respective sleeve remains to be seen but their first meeting in the dugout promises to be a fascinating affair, not least because of their contrasting characters.

Where Bielsa invariably sports an expression during games that borders on a ‘poker face’, Wilder wears his heart on his sleeve.

If something has to be said, even amid the racket made by 25,000 plus United voices at the Lane, Wilder makes sure it is said.

Likewise if his players’ standards slip – as was the case in the recent draw at Rotherham – the Blades chief is not one to hold back. Even then, though, Wilder’s words are carefully chosen and clearly designed to elicit the kind of response that brought victory at Brentford in midweek.

The pair’s respective paths to this season’s Championship promotion race could also not be more contrasting.

Bielsa arrived in Leeds last summer via two stints in international football and a host of jobs coaching big European clubs. His first job was in charge of Newell’s Old Boys, two years after the Argentinian club had finished runners-up in Copa Libertadores.

Wilder, meanwhile, started at the bottom with Bradway FC in the Meadowhall Sunday League and every success has had to be earned the hard way.

Not for nothing did he used to joke about attempting to steer a distinctly skint Halifax Town to promotion from the Conference as being akin to “trying to win Formula 1 in a Ford Escort”.

Three promotions and a gradual rise that, on the evidence of the opening 19 games, has a good chance of continuing into the Premier League next season are testament to the qualities that Bielsa admits to having already seen in his Blades counterpart.

“As I am not very familiar with English football I take many precautions before making an opinion,” said the Argentinian.

“But if I was in a bar having a coffee with friends I would say that Sheffield United’s head coach is someone with new ideas and I have seen very few people with these ideas.

“Head coaches will usually look at what our colleagues do to learn from them and we want to learn new things.

“Not what everyone is doing because usually when you observe someone you observe the new things and the ideas of our next opponent deserve to be studied.

“I don’t know the story and history of their head coach but I think what I am saying is right.”

Both Uniteds head into the derby buoyed by midweek victories, the Blades edging a five-goal thriller at Brentford as Leeds beat Reading thanks to a last-minute penalty save from Bailey Peacock-Farrell.

Pontus Jansson was absent for the victory over the Royals but he is available again after recovering from a foot injury sustained in the defeat to West Bromwich Albion on November 10.

“I have seen very few players with this consistency,” said Bielsa about the returning Swedish centre half. “I haven’t seen many players that tall and that heavy that can have the same response as a full-back.”

The return of one heavyweight brings further intrigue to the Box Office clash that is Wilder v Bielsa.