FA Cup proves welcome break for Marcelo Bielsa with sole focus on the league

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 06: Marcelo Bielsa, Manager of of Leeds United poses for a photo ahead of the FA Cup Third Round match between Queens Park Rangers and Leeds United at Loftus Road on January 6, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

    While there may be an argument that Leeds United’s Third Round defeat to QPR in the FA Cup extends the club’s losing streak to three games, thereby creating a bad habit, the defeat was not damaging when placed in context.

    In fact, the game arrived at an opportune moment for Marcelo Bielsa.

    Following the high-octane 3-2 victory against Blackburn at Elland Road, Leeds were hit with two consecutive defeats against Hull and Nottingham Forest, the first time this has happened under Bielsa’s stewardship.

    Being able to regroup following the hectic Christmas period therefore meant the FA Cup offered some welcome respite with Bielsa able to completely rest key players such as Pablo Hernandez and Kemar Roofe.

    With an average age of 22 in the starting line-up at Loftus Road, it was clear the match was almost an experimental project for the Argentinian coach with Jack Harrison being tested in a new position and young Jack Clarke finally getting a chance to show what he can do from the start.

    LONDON, ENGLAND – JANUARY 06: Jack Clarke of Leeds United and Osman Kakay of Queens Park Rangers during the FA Cup Third Round match between Queens Park Rangers and Leeds United at Loftus Road on January 6, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

    The league is clearly Bielsa’s prerogative as shown by the way in which he revealed his starting line-up to face QPR a full two days before the tie during a press conference.

    After the intense, rough and tumble of the Championship, being able to field a second eleven with plenty of youngsters getting a chance to impress appears to be good timing for the club.

    This is especially true given that Bielsa has often been criticised for blowing up teams with fatigue towards the back-end of seasons.

    The defeat at Forest, in which Leeds played over 45 minutes with 10 men, was a particularly bruising encounter.

    Being able to protect players such as Hernandez and Jansson after the clash at the City Ground ahead of a crucial game with Derby County on Friday night can only have been a positive occurrence.

    It also meant Kalvin Phillips will now only miss two league games following his straight red against Aitor Karanka’s men.

    Phillips has been one of the most consistent and stand-out performers for The Whites this season, so his loss will be notable. However, this loss has been somewhat softened by the cup essentially reducing the ban to two.

    LONDON, ENGLAND – JANUARY 06: Marcelo Bielsa, Manager of of Leeds United during the FA Cup Third Round match between Queens Park Rangers and Leeds United at Loftus Road on January 6, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

    Not only does the FA Cup enable Leeds to recuperate and recharge the batteries ahead of the remaining 20 Championship fixtures, it also means the club cannot be on the receiving end of another giant-killing a la Histon this time around.

    Newport County’s 2-1 victory over Leicester on Sunday evening was a reminder of the fate brought upon Thomas Christiansen’s side at the same venue and stage of the competition this time last year.

    Samuel Saiz of course received a six game ban for spitting as the wheels really began to fly off following the 2-1 defeat at Rodney Parade.

    Losing to lower league opposition cannot do much for confidence, and
    it was mostly downhill until the end of the campaign following that demoralising defeat in Wales.

    This season however, with Bielsa at the helm, there was to be no such distraction from the number one priority of league form. No unnecessary injuries or suspensions have arisen from the trip to West London which could have hindered the team’s ongoing quest to be promoted.

    LONDON, ENGLAND – JANUARY 06: Jack Harrison of Leeds United holds up three fingers as he asks his teammates how many players they want in the free kick wall during the FA Cup Third Round match between Queens Park Rangers and Leeds United at Loftus Road on January 6, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Charlotte Wilson/Offside/Getty Images)

    If anything, the game will have slipped under the radar. No upsets or controversy involved. The national back-page headlines can be reserved for the likes of Barnet, Gillingham and Oldham rather than Leeds. Just how Bielsa will have hoped it would be.

    Immediate attention now turns to the eye-catching clash with Derby in front of the Sky TV cameras on Friday night. Focus now centres solely on the league in what may be the most enthralling campaign of the modern era for those connected with Leeds United.