Southampton v Leeds United: Patrick Bamford’s absence not main problem for Marcelo Bielsa

Leeds United are not scoring enough goals at the moment and Patrick Bamford is injured, but their head coach Marcelo Bielsa knows the reality of their situation is more complicated than that, just as it is for struggling Southampton.

This afternoon’s game at St Mary’s Stadium was the target for Bamford to return from the ankle injury he sustained at Newcastle United but Bielsa is never one for tying himself to precise timescales – or, as he likes to put it in his technocratic language, every comeback is “subject to the evolution of the injury”. Bamford’s will have to wait a little longer and he will dodge the long trip to the south coast along with defenders Luke Ayling and Robin Koch, and possibly others too. Even three absentees is a lot for a squad which makes a proud point of taking leanness to the point of anorexia.

Bamford scored more Premier League goals, 17, than any Englishman not called Harry Kane last season and the Whites have only scored seven is as many matches this (conceding twice as many) – QED, you might think if you overlooked his contribution of one in five of those games.

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Bamford’s deputy in the last two games and more than likely this afternoon, Spanish international Rodrigo, has not found the net all season. If Bamford is an out-and-out No 9, Rodrigo is to use the hipster terminology more like a nine-and-a-half – less dead-eyed goal-getter, more carefree creator.

Leeds United's Patrick Bamford. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Bielsa, though, likes nothing more than to delve a little deeper. He feels there are two bigger issues at play – Leeds are not creating enough chances, which seems harsh when you consider only Liverpool, the two Manchester clubs and West Ham United have had more shots than their 105, and the indisputable criticism springing from that which rests on another beloved Bielsaism – “efficiency”. Leeds had 20 of those shots in beating Watford in their last outing before the international break, but only managed to put three on target and another for Tyler Roberts onto the crossbar.

The chances-to-goals ratio has always been a fault of the free-flowing teams Bielsa has created and for the neutrals their lack of ruthlessness can actually add a little to their charm – more efficient teams can spoil games by making them into non-contests – but it is why, when asked about his team’s goalscoring output, the Argentinian is quick to insist: “I don’t think it depends on Patrick.”

He continues: “We can construct our offensive game in a collective manner. Of course, having a player that converts the chances increases the possibility of getting more goals.

“If you ask me if it (Leeds’s goal return) worries me then I would say yes, I would like it if we created more chances and if we increased the efficiency (of our finishing). Both things have a margin for improvement and of course if Patrick was here we would enjoy the contribution that he makes.

Marcelo Bielsa. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

“But in a parallel way we are also ready to be at the same level in the games that he is not there.”

Leeds’s football has never been based around one man, even if their international stars, Kalvin Phillips and three-goal top-scorer Raphinha are regularly putting on performances it is hard to ignore. Both are doubtful today, Phillips having missed England’s last two matches with a calf strain, Raphinha’s problem the opposite – uncapped a fortnight ago, he has been playing so well for Brazil since he has crammed three matches and over 10,000 air miles in.

To see Southampton a place below Leeds, with only four points from seven matches, makes it hard not to leap to another obvious conclusion – after selling Danny Ings and Jannik Vestergaard in the summer, they are having a poor start to the season.

Given that no team which has been in the Premier League throughout has fewer points this calendar year (even Sheffield United have a better record), it is hard to argue Ralph Hasenhuttl’s men are not having a great time of it, so much so that one fears for the Austrian manager’s job security.

This afternoon they will be without the suspended James Ward-Prowse and the injured Che Adams as they go in search of their first league win since beating recently-relegated Fulham in mid-May.

They have, though, taken points off both Manchester clubs and West Ham (plus Newcastle United, admittedly a less impressive scalp at this stage) in the course of a six-match unbeaten run in all competitions which saw them score eight goals away from home in the League Cup.

“If you expect a five-star dinner you will not see it,” Hasenhuttl has already warned those hoping for a feast of football at St Mary’s today. Bielsa, though, was never expecting a picnic.

“In the Premier League the games are always very difficult, (although) there are some games that are a little bit more than difficult,” acknowledges a man who has also managed in the Spanish, Argentinian, French and Mexican leagues.

“What we are absolutely sure of is that Southampton are going to be a very, very difficult opponent to overcome.

“It’s the best league in the world without doubt. The best players are here, there’s a group of great coaches also.

“Even if the world has a lot of good players that don’t play here, here there are a lot of good players.

“You can evaluate what type of opponent Southampton is and how they solved some difficult games they have already played, for example against Manchester City (September’s 0-0 draw at Eastlands), and you see that what I am commenting on has a lot of basis of reality.”

And reality is not always what you see at face value.