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Marcelo Bielsa: Leeds United continue with Argentine’s methods

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Marcelo Bielsa was an animated figure during his side’s 4-0 loss against Manchester United in Perth

It was just before 22:00 local time in Perth, Australia, almost an hour after the final whistle had gone in Leeds’ 4-0 pre-season defeat by Manchester United, that coach Diego Flores made his way into the media room at the Optus Stadium.

It was confirmed Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa would not be speaking to the media. Instead, the former Argentina and Chile boss would continue his analysis of a difficult night for his team; checking the statistics, watching the video, doing his job the way he feels it has to be done.

It was disappointing not to hear from Bielsa, who agreed to stay at the club for an additional season after making such rapid progress last year.

Yet it was in keeping with how he ran Leeds’ entire four-day visit to Perth, giving an insight into the 63-year-old’s unconventional methods – methods fans are hoping will take them back to the Premier League in their 100th season.

Blisters and not putting the kids to bed

Bielsa demands a brutal amount from his players. When they returned for the start of pre-season at the end of last month, they were put through sessions so tough it is a wonder they were able to turn up again the following day. No-one complained. This is the Bielsa way.

“Those first two weeks are hard,” said skipper Liam Cooper.

“You can have double, triple, four sessions a day. There were hard blisters on my feet. Everything just ached. Sometimes I don’t even get to put my little girl to bed at 7pm. This is day after day.

“After last year, the lads’ bodies were already accustomed to the work. There are a lot of timed runs. The ‘murder ball’ game, which is 11 v 11, is really high intensity. Our running stats go through the roof.”

Anyone who did not report back on day one, such as new star recruit Helder Costa, remained in Leeds when the rump of the squad flew to Australia on Saturday – they are still in Yorkshire now.

Bielsa was with them until Monday, when he flew to Perth. Leeds staff thought nothing of it when the South American arranged for someone to film Tuesday evening’s training session so he could watch it live even though he was on a plane.

“That’s normal for Marcelo,” said one.

‘Staying true to our identity’

Such behaviour was noted last season. It seemed for so long Bielsa would guide Leeds back to the Premier League after a 15-year absence.

They missed out on automatic promotion after picking up just one point from their final four games, before that calamitous play-off semi-final defeat by Derby when Leeds led 2-0 on aggregate a minute from half-time in the second leg, only to concede four times and be eliminated.

There are no wholesale changes though. Bielsa’s philosophy remains.

“Last year was our first getting used to the style of play, getting used to the high intensity and the constant pressing,” said striker Patrick Bamford.

“People might think he has to change but in the second year we are more acclimatised. We should be able to do it for longer. We shouldn’t change our style just because we failed at the last hurdle. You learn from it but you stay true to your identity.”

Continuity is key

Leeds United finished nine points ahead of Derby in the Championship, before losing to them in the play-off semi-finals

Leeds also believe there is value in continuity.

It is interesting that one of Bielsa’s loan signings, Jack Harrison, is returning for a second spell, the Manchester City midfielder having spent last season at Elland Road. Jack Clarke is another familiar face after Tottenham paid £10m for the teenage winger and then immediately sent him back to West Yorkshire on loan.

“Continuity is our value for next season,” Leeds technical director Victor Orta told BBC Sport.

“This is the reason we decided to continue with the great manager we have. We also decided to have continuity with the core of the squad that we think can be necessary for us.

“We are in a high-level performance. Each detail, each millimetre is important.”

Evidently this means Bielsa watching training sessions, even though he is not actually present, or analysing pre-season games hours after they have finished.

This attention to detail borders on obsession.

Promotion expectation

At a well-attended question and answer session in Cottesloe, four and a half hours before the Manchester United game, managing director Angus Kinnear said that Leeds did not set targets last year.

However, after the transformation the team had undergone under Bielsa, now there was one – automatic promotion.

“When you are really close to something and you don’t get it, you can take two roads,” added Orta.

“You can think about the chance you lost, or think about the one in front of you. We have decided on the second one. When you look back, you can’t advance.

“Marcelo has the same feeling we have. He believes we can achieve the goal everyone involved in Leeds wants.”



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