Words by Josh Hobbs
Perspective is something Leeds United fans struggle with.Perhaps it’s because of so many years of false dawns, so many wasted seasons,so many performances like losing 4-1 to West Brom.
The game at the Hawthorns gave Leeds the opportunity to return to the top of the Championship, as Middlesbrough and Norwich had crept ahead earlier in the day. However, Leeds missed that opportunity by some distance, as it was clear from the opening minutes that West Brom were the more dangerous of the two sides. Leeds, who have dominated possession in every game so far this season, found their passes going to opposition players more often than not in the early stages and West Brom were breaking the Leeds lines far too easily. The fact that Leeds went in at half-time at 0-0 was a shock given the pattern of play in the first 25 minutes.
Whilst Leeds did eventually establish themselves on the ball, ending up with 70% possession, they were toothless with it, as opposed to the home side, who managed 20 shots on goal, converting four of those in the second half. By the time Leeds finally broke through the opposition defence, the game was dead and buried.
A lot could be written, and has been written, about the disappointment of the performance individually and collectively. Even some of Bielsa’s decisions were questionable, such as waiting so long to bring on Samuel Saiz, or substituting Douglas whilst Alioski remained on the field; but the most important thing that Leeds fans need to remember is perspective.
Almost the exact same team last season, bar Douglas and Klich, were putting in similar performances to the West Brom loss every week under Paul Heckingbottom. Some would argue that this game shows the weak underbelly of the side and that the squad is too thin, but you can also look at it as showing the miracle work that Marcelo Bielsa has performed so far this season. Under Heckingbottom and Christiansen before him, Leeds allowed results like this to follow one another in quick succession, but with Bielsa at the helm, another performance like this one, at least in the next game, would be a shock.
It is certainly true that the first team squad has been plagued with injuries since the first game of the season, when Leeds lost Adam Forshaw for several weeks before a ball was kicked. Following that, Hernandez, Ayling, Bamford, Berardi (twice) and Roofe have all been or are out for significant periods of time. However, where that kind of injury list would have taken Leeds out in the past, Leeds were still able to keep the pace at the top.Whilst it could be argued that they’d have pulled away from the chasing pack if they’d not had so many injuries, it takes a special kind of character to stay in the hunt when so many star players are in the treatment room.
Last season when Leeds lost Samu Saiz to a six game ban, their season completely imploded and they tumbled down the table. Whilst games have become more challenging with increasing amounts of players missing, Leeds have still controlled games and find themselves third, having missed the chance to go back to the top at the Hawthorns. Under Bielsa, the sense is that Leeds will analyse what went wrong against West Brom to the minute details and they will come back stronger for the experience against Bristol City.
Whilst many might think this result should cause Bielsa to ring the changes, any understanding of how the Argentinian works should tell us that won’t be the case. He knows the game plan went wrong in the Midlands, but he’ll be all the more determined to make sure it works next time out. He has constantly shown faith in his squad since day one, where many thought he’d arrive at Thorp Arch demanding new signings, he has largely worked with what the club already had to offer, he is not likely to drop all those that have got Leeds to such a lofty position in the league after one bad game.
Whether he might decide that Samu Saiz and Pablo Hernandez must both start though, is another matter. It was their partnership in the first month of the season that saw Leeds score three plus goals against Stoke, Derby and Norwich and give Leeds fans genuine hope for the season ahead. If they can find their form together again, the Elland Road crowd will be in for the kind of football that has rarely, if ever, been seen at Leeds, certainly in the last 15 years. There have been so many bad teams, under Warnock, Heckingbottom, Hockaday, Milanic and Evans, Leeds fans would do well to keep a bit of perspective and take the rough with the smooth with Marcelo Bielsa. Sometimes it’ll be maddening, but it looks like Leeds are going to win far more than they’ll lose and the club have certainly got the best chance of returning to the Premier League than they’ve had for many years.