Leeds United of previous seasons have been of the hit-n-miss, spark-n-dullen variety that has largely led to mid-table mediocrity. This season might be something different – and I use ‘might’ intentionally.
In recent seasons Whites fans have had to almost hunker down and accept that their side are almost pre-destined to finish in a comfortable mid-table position that sees them as far away from relegation as they are from promotion. It’s been par for the course to the point that fans have simply accepted it and hoped that the next season will be better.
Two seasons ago the Whites had a 26-game, 142-day flirtation with the play-off picture, eventually falling agonisingly just short and ending in 7th place. Last season a charge out of the blocks saw Leeds top the early table, before the usual rollercoaster of performances set in and the Whites ended in 13th.
That season cost two managers, Thomas Christiansen and Paul Heckingbottom, their jobs and caused a big re-think in the policy of owner Andrea Radrizzani. In fairness Leeds United fans choked on their coffee n’ toast when news started to circulate that their club were in for Argentine coaching guru Marcelo Bielsa.
This was a man respected by Premier League managers and a man who’d guided two nations to the World Cup finals – one of these being his native Argentina. When you look at past Leeds United managers, Bielsa on reputation alone is up there with the very best of them – if not above.
There was much talk of his high-press, fluid-transmission style of football, of his use of positional roles such as the ‘enganche’ and his overall football philosophy and ethos. But the proof of the pudding is in the taste, and Leeds United fans have had two big tastes of Bielsa ball in the 3-1 victory over Stoke City and the 4-1 mauling of Derby County.
They want more, Leeds fans are thirsting for more of what Bielsa can inspire their side to do. That’s why tonight’s game is not only an important cup tie, Bielsa’s first in English football, but also a doubly important fixture.
Bielsa’s pre-Bolton presser was a joy to behold as he stopped reporters dead in asking questions about Leeds’ chances in gaining promotion – too early to say said the Argentine, before invalidating their questions. One thing he did state very clearly was that the cup competitions would be given equal billing with the league.
With that in mind, Bielsa is ready to rotate in players who either didn’t feature at Derby County on Sunday, or who didn’t get much of a chance to stretch their legs. Leeds United fans will get a chance to see the likes of Jamal Blackman, Lewis Baker, Jack Harrison and Patrick Bamford – four of the Whites summer incomings. But more than that, the same fans will get to see the following.
Those who see whatever side Leeds put out tonight will get to see Bielsa’s philosophy in motion as his ‘second-string’ side play out a Carabao Cup tie against opponents from their actual league. If the Under-23s game last night is anything to go by, the high-press, high-energy Bielsa philosophy has dripped down throughout the club as a whole.
Tonight’s Carabao Cup tie against Bolton Wanderers at Elland Road gives fans not only the chance to see those players who are bubbling under the surface of the first-team set-up, but it also gives them the reassurance as to how they could slide in to the league set-up. With the Bielsa philosophy being adopted at all levels at Elland Road, any transition will hopefully be seamless.
That’s what makes tonight’s game really doubly important.