LEEDS UNITED conceded another six goals against Manchester United, taking their season total to 30, the highest in the Premier League. Life is never dull in Leeds games, in fact, their game at Old Trafford was real end-to-end stuff, but are Leeds’ fans really enjoying their time back in the top flight? The neutrals surely are, hence commentators are urging Leeds “not to change”, but is the Bielsa way heading for relegation or, at best, a fight against the dreaded drop?
There is something very patronising about the way people talk about Leeds. Everyone insists Bielsa is a “great coach”, “cult figure” and “South American icon” but most people in the United Kingdom had not heard of the Argentinian before he came to England. Now, the narrative is focused around how his teams play open attacking football and hence, their games are full of goals. The media are fascinated about every Bielsa detail, be it the way he sits on a bucket, the fact he has a translator, and his liking for a beverage while watching the game. The cynic might suggest that if it was anyone else (and we’re not getting all Klopp v Mourinho here) they would get criticised for having quirky ways.
There’s no doubt Leeds are good to watch at times, but they also leave you pulling your hair out. This type of football will probably not be successful in the Premier, but hey, it’s Bielsa, he’s a cool character.
Leeds’ history is also brought into the conversation, with comparisons being made between the club’s Revie-era team and the current crop. Leeds are, apparently, a popular club today around England, but they were “the most hated in the land in the 1970s”. Before I leap to Leeds’ defence, I would add I am a Chelsea fan and watched the 1970 FA Cup final games and Leeds were definitely the enemy – but we respected them.
However, most of Leeds’ serious misdemeanours occurred before 1970 when they returned to the first division. They matured. Leeds were a tough side, but in that period, every team had hard men: Arsenal had Peter Storey, Liverpool had Tommy Smith, Chelsea had Chopper Harris, Leeds had Billy Bremner, Norman Hunter and Johnny Giles, who could all mix it. Let’s not forget that in the so-called roughest game of all time (Chelsea v Leeds 1970 FA Cup final replay), both teams were, quite simply, filthy dirty.
Yes, Leeds were a robust bunch at times, but they developed into a fine footballing team that could be quite brilliant. A lot of people refused to forgive them for some of their rough-arm tactics in the late 1960s.
Right now, some experts are talking up Leeds’ brand of football (doubtless someone has called it “Bielsa Ball”) and its entertainment value. Back in the 1970s, commentators used to eulogise about West Ham’s football and Ron Greenwood’s purist (and often naïve) style. West Ham were good to watch, but success was fleeting and they were often embroiled in relegation struggles. They could be a soft touch over the course of a league season.
Leeds 2020 are looking a fragile team that can either be excellent or visibly lacking in savvy. In their 14 league games, they have conceded three or more goals six times. If they are going to avoid being dragged down the table, they must win more than they lose. Their defeat at Old Trafford, against a United team that still fails to convince against good opponents, raises question marks about prospects. Leeds have already brought something different to the Premier League, but they have got to be careful.
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