Under Marcelo Bielsa, Leeds United have perfected the art of being great losers. In a traumatising Saturday night in Nottingham, even that deserted them.
The Whites have bean beaten 10 times in all competitions this season, including five of the last six matches.
We disturbed Leeds in the first half, they made a lot more mistakes than usual,” he concluded. “The wingers didn’t make the difference and without (the suspended Kalvin) Phillips it’s different.Forest coach Sabri Lamouchi
Their defeats tend to follow a pattern. Usually they carve out chance after chance without the ruthlessness of winners, and concede through defensive lapses, often at set pieces. Whatever happens at the ends of the field which decide the outcome of football matches, between the boxes they are consistently brilliant.
Bielsa has a history of producing masterpieces of football teams, far less so of picking up trophies. Leeds have never been a club to crave the adulation of others, and this season in particular just need winners.
If their FA Cup exit to Arsenal was typical, widely lauded as a masterclass but blighted by the traits which have stopped them fulfilling their potential under Bielsa, the 2-0 reverse at the City Ground bucked the trend. When Leeds cannot pass properly, something is wrong.
They only wasted two really good chances. Patrick Bamford nodded Pablo Hernandez’s cross sideways shortly before Forest took the lead. Liam Cooper’s header was met with an incredible save by Brice Samba, who brilliantly leapt up to claw what looked like an equaliser off the line.
Bielsa can insist his players are not feeling the pressure but against Forest they contradicted him. Whenever the Whites’ rivals sniff even the slightest chink in the armour, they love to gloat that “Leeds are falling apart again.” On national television, they backed up the theory.
English might not be Forest coach Sabri Lamouchi’s first language, but he was on the money with the buzzword of his press conference when it came to it. Five times in seven minutes he used the word “disturb.”
“We disturbed Leeds in the first half, they made a lot more mistakes than usual,” he concluded. “The wingers didn’t make the difference and without (the suspended Kalvin) Phillips it’s different.”
Bielsa did two things in his post-match press conference to deflect the criticism from his players, insisting the responsibility was his alone, and praising their effort.
He was wrong on the first count, just as he was to insist his was the better team on the night, but the chances are he knows that, even if there was not the manic technical-area raging you might expect at Leeds’ sloppiness.
The opening goal came when Pablo Hernandez gave the ball away, Sammy Ameobi played a one-two and smashed a shot past Kiko Casilla, who ought to have been able to protect his near post.
When it comes to effort, it was impossible to tell Bielsa he was wrong, which is apparently what journalists are supposed to do in his press conferences. His players certainly care, but perhaps that is adding to the pressure they feel.
If the despair on Jack Harrison’s face when he dwelt on the ball in stoppage time and was robbed by Joe Lolley was for show, he should have been at the Oscars this weekend. Lolley ran into the area and squared for Tyler Walker, a late substitute and centre-forward, whose penalty-area instincts are the exact opposite of his dad Des’s, to put the tin hat on Leeds’ night.
Hopefully, behind closed doors, Leeds players are taking responsibility. It was pleasing to hear Luke Ayling saying: “Most of it is on us.”
The good news is the meltdown has happened early. By losing their 11-point cushion in just 57 days, they have time to clear their heads and reset. If this defeat becomes a watershed, in early February, Leeds might look back on it in May as a good thing. If...
Teams are queuing up to overtake Leeds and in the worst-case scenario they could be fifth on Wednesday night, yet leaders West Bromwich Albion’s nerves have kept them well within reach.
The bad news is this is the Championship, so there is little time to clear heads. They are at Griffin Park tomorrow, where Brentford know victory will see them leapfrog Leeds. If Bristol City can beat Derby on Wednesday, the same will be true for Lee Johnson’s side at Elland Road on Saturday.
“It’s me who has to find the solutions,” said Bielsa.
He was staunchly behind Casilla, but the Spaniard needs a good defence because his confidence looks shot.
At least Lewis Grabban gave him the chance of a second-half save with his legs, inexplicably hitting his shot at a goalkeeper on the turf practically begging for mercy as one of the league’s top goal-scorers eyed up the chance to surely end the contest. He also kept out Lolley’s free-kick but the damage had been done.
Despite Bielsa’s midweek tirade about Jean-Kevin Augustin not yet being fit enough to be in his squad, by Saturday he had made up the gap enough for a 19-minute cameo.
Phillips will be back in midfield at Brentford, meaning Ben White can return to central defence and Ezgjan Alioski – who had to be substituted before he could pick up another yellow card – can come out of the firing line.
It was, to quote Lamouchi, a disturbing evening.
Nottingham Forest: Samba; Cash, Figueiredo (Walker 90), Worall, Ribeiro; Sow, Watson; Ameobi (Diakhaby 67), Lolley, Silva (Yates 79); Grabban. Unused substitutes: Bong, Jenkinson, Dawson, Muric.
Leeds United: Casilla; Dallas, Ayling, Cooper, Alioski (Shackleton 71); White; Costa, Hernandez (Roberts 59), Klich, Harrison; Bamford (Augustin 71). Unused substitutes: Meslier, Berardi, Struijk, Stevens.
Referee: O Langford (West Midlands).