Leeds United had a quite the lesson in contrasts last week. First, the club went to West London, with everyone expecting a victory and three points in the bag, only to walk away with nothing but a bad taste in their collective mouths after a loss to Queens Park Rangers. Secondly, Leeds faced off perhaps the deepest and most expensively assembled squad in the Championship this year at Elland Road, only to blow the doors off of West Bromwich Albion. Quite the difference, eh? Here are five things we learned.
“It’s clear that you don’t know what you are talking about, because if there is something this team doesn’t lack it is energy."— COPA90 (@COPA90) February 27, 2019
Marcelo Bielsa wasn't happy when a journalist suggested his team could be fading after they lost to QPR last night...
[ IG: shan.illu] pic.twitter.com/H8NXDxFpN5
The fabled Bielsa “burn-out” might just be a myth
Phil Hay wrote a column on this subject this week and Jon MacKenzie wrote one earlier this season about the myth of the Bielsa “burn-out” not really holding up to scrutiny. Yes, the players at some of his former clubs might have been tired at the end of some of those seasons, but like at Athletic Bilbao, where the club was limited by a “Basque only” policy, Bielsa rarely takes charge of clubs with lots of resources. And like at Athletic Club, the team was in three different competitions at the end of the season, making the final of the Europa League and the Copa del Rey. Leeds are only in one competition right now, so won’t be playing two matches a week for multiple months with a short bench.
Leeds will win if the chances that are created are scored
I know, this seems obvious, right?
The biggest difference between the match against QPR and West Brom, however, was the number of chances that were converted by Leeds. Against West Brom, Pablo Hernandez converted the first chance of the game and it seemed the club never looked back. Against QPR, a number of chances just didn’t get converted in the first half, meaning that when QPR finally did get a chance and scored, it was crisis time and Leeds couldn’t find a late goal to draw level.
Leeds have been near the top of the league in shots attempted all season, as the way a Bielsa team plays is to constantly put pressure on the other team’s defence. But the team often has had trouble turning those shots into goals. If Leeds continue to create chances, then eventually they’ll turn them into goals and the club will be fine.
The team is quite good at putting bad losses behind them
The loss at QPR was bad, no doubt about it. Leeds teams in the past have often seemed unable to put bad losses behind them, allowing a poor result to spiral out of control and eventually derail the season.
Last year, Leeds suffered a bad loss at Sheffield Wednesday and it took over a month to look right again, only for a disaster of a January to once again cause another downward spiral that lead to Thomas Christiansen being sacked and Paul Heckingbottom to come in and underachieve down the stretch.
The first loss to West Brom didn’t break this team, as the team rattled off seven wins in a row in November and December. And the loss at QPR, which could have spooked this team into another dire run of form, was immediately forgotten. As despondent as Marcelo Bielsa looked after the QPR match, you would have thought Leeds weren’t still near the top of the table. But the win over a seemingly “superior” West Brom team, a team that had already dominated Leeds, put all of those negative feelings to bed. Call it luck, call it mental strength, whatever. This team doesn’t seem to let bad losses fester into bad losing streaks.
Tyler Roberts v West Brom:— LUFCDATA (@LUFCDATA) March 2, 2019
72% pass accuracy
9 ball recoveries (no West Brom player made more)
23/32 successful passes
4/4 successful take-ons
4 chances created (most on pitch)
3 tackles won
3 times fouled
2 assists (most on pitch)
Take a bow, Tyler Roberts
Yes, Gjanni Alioski was amazing at left back. And yes, Hernandez, Liam Cooper, and Pontus Jansson all had magnificent games. Even Patrick Bamford scored twice. But Tyler Roberts’ performance at the enganche or “Number 10” role? Where did that come from?
Roberts was brought in as a striker for Leeds, and he even filled in pretty decently earlier in the season filling in when the top two strikers at the club, Kemar Roofe and Bamford, were both out injured. However, Bielsa had been training Roberts to take up the number 10 role after Saiz had left, and boy, did it finally click for the teenager against West Brom, his old club.
If Roberts can play like that the rest of the season, then Leeds will be fine.
Elland Road was a cauldron on Friday night
The energy from the crowd seemed to give the players wings, an extra step, and a fountain of endless stamina. It wasn’t just Alioski who seemed to be able to run for miles without stopping, it was the whole team. The crowd was in remarkable form the entire 90 minutes, making it about as imposing an atmosphere as you’ll find in England. The match was intense from the very beginning, and the players, especially Jansson, absolutely feed off of that and it inspires them to perform at even greater levels.
With that crowd behind the team, there is no way that Leeds were going to lose that match. No way. If the team can respond and feed off of the crowd like that again, well, then Leeds have a bright future for the next 11 games.