Marcelo Bielsa’s wide options offer excitement for Leeds United fans

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    SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 20: Jack Harrison of Leeds United runs during the match between the Western Sydney Wanderers and Leeds United at Bankwest Stadium on July 20, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jeremy Ng/Getty Images)

    Direct wing-play remains a valuable asset for any football side, creating an outlet to build attacks from by distributing the ball out wide away from the more congested rough and tumble of the central areas.

    With Pablo Hernandez showing no signs of slowing down as he continues to operate effectively well into his thirties, there are options for Marcelo Bielsa to work with if he wants his standout number 19 to move into a central attacking position.

    Indeed, the exciting signing of Helder Costa from Wolves, as well as the decision to maintain Jack Harrison and Jack Clarke for the upcoming season, means Leeds have genuine out-and-out pace options to work with.

    LONDON, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 29: Helder Costa of Wolverhampton Wanderers celebrates after scoring his team’s third goal during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Wolverhampton Wanderers at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on December 29, 2018 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

    Throw in Jordan Stevens and the versatility of Ezgjan Alioski, Stuart Dallas and Jamie Shackleton, and Leeds have an abundance of wingers at their disposal.

    Although, Hernandez showed last season and during pre-season that he is more than happy to cut inside from the right wing, there is an argument that two direct wingers such as Harrison and Costa could drag defenders out of position, thereby creating more space for the silky Spaniard to do his thing in central attacking areas.

    Yet Bielsa can mix things up as he sees fit if injuries are kept down. Hernandez’s aesthetically pleasing injury-time winner against Western Sydney Wanderers demonstrated he can work his magic literally anywhere in the attacking quarter including from out wide.

    In Helder Costa, Leeds have signed a player who was an essential part of what is arguably the best team ever to grace the Championship. The 25-year-old winger played 36 times as Wolves, supported by their Chinese owners’ riches and super agent Jorge Mendes, cantered to promotion with four games to spare.

    Although he appeared 25 times in the Premier League for Wolves last season, Costa has been moved on, having scored five and assisted six during the 2017/18 promotion season, due to Nuno Espírito Santo bringing in a number of high profile additions for the top-flight.

    The opportunity to showcase he still has it what takes to play at the highest level means both parties will feel like this is a really good move.

    As Jack Clarke showed last season, trickery and pace can be devastatingly effective. Think back to Derby at home in January and Clarke’s introduction at Villa Park in December.

    LEEDS, ENGLAND – JANUARY 11: Jack Clarke of Leeds United and Fikayo Tomori of Derby County compete for the ball during the Sky Bet Championship match between Leeds United and Derby County at Elland Road on January 11, 2019 in Leeds, England. (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)

    As for Jack Harrison, last season was clearly part of the young Manchester City player’s development. One year on, having had time to adjust to Bielsa’s demands and instructions, Harrison will inevitably be looking to kick on further.

    The signs in pre-season are good with Harrison, setting up goals for Kemar Roofe against York City and Mateusz Bogusz against Western Sydney with old fashioned wing-play.

    Head down, get to the byline, look up then play the ball across the box to be stroked into the net. Football is a simple game at times. And Harrison can offer this simplicity through his ability to take on defenders.

    “Leeds called me about Jack Harrison and he did so well on pre-season and I was really impressed,” said Pep Guardiola in July, who also stated “if there is no space they have to play somewhere else,” when referring to Harrison.

    Being shown a stamp of faith by Bielsa who clearly thought he was good enough to come back to Leeds for a further season, must have been a boost for Harrison who has played with real confidence in pre-season following a mixed 2018/19 campaign.

    SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – JULY 20: Bruce Kamau of the Wanderers and Jack Harrison of Leeds United challenge for the ball during the match between the Western Sydney Wanderers and Leeds United at Bankwest Stadium on July 20, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jeremy Ng/Getty Images)

    After 37 league games, four goals and three assists last season, the signs are there that Harrison is now ready to kick-on to another level.

    Jack Clarke was often utilised as an impact substitute by Bielsa, testing tiring legs with his youthful vibrancy. The fact Tottenham were prepared to pay £10 million plus for the 18-year-old tells you everything you need to know about Clarke’s potential.

    If Leeds were to start games with Costa and Harrison for example, then bring on Clarke from the bench, there would simply be no let-up for full-backs over the course of the game if they played to their potential.

    And it is that direct pace, coupled with the creativity of Pablo Hernandez and Tyler Roberts, which suggests Leeds United are going to be difficult to contain in the Championship.

    Question marks remain over Patrick Bamford and the fitness of Kemar Roofe, but for those two, they will never have a better chance to score regularly due to the attacking midfielders supplying them with goal-scoring opportunities this season.