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          Leeds lost form completely before storming run

          FAN FARE | How Bielsa turned it around

          2020/03/20 16:58
          By Sam Bevan
          E0

          We were all dreaming of a Premier League return in mid-December - our imaginations running riot when we went in 3-0 up at the break against Cardiff to seemingly put one foot in the top flight.

          However, the Bluebirds silenced Elland Road with a stunning three-goal comeback to earn a 3-3 draw in the second half and - although many of us brushed that off and thought it would be plain sailing from there - this is Leeds United, and it is never easy.


          Marcelo Bielsa’s side looked nailed on for promotion in December before the world flipped upside down. Just shy of 50 points from the opening 22 games of the season put us well above the famous ‘two points per game’ theory that almost guarantees sides promotion, and we finished the Cardiff match in mid-December with a 10-point gap to third-placed Preston. 

          From 22 games played, Leeds had racked up 14 wins and only three losses, and it looked as if Marcelo Bielsa’s side were in a fierce two-way competition with West Brom to win the title. However, the Championship is an unpredictable league at the best of times, and - as there normally is in this division - there was a painful sting in the tail. 

          Fast forward a dozen games and we had only added three wins to our total with sides queueing up to overtake us. After losing to Nottingham Forest, which in my opinion was the worst we have ever played under Bielsa, Fulham, Brentford and Forest all blew their opportunities to overtake us in their subsequent games (where we faced Brentford). 

          Turning point

          If we are to win promotion this season, that trip to Griffin Park will be viewed as the turning point for sure. A location where we have failed to win in over 50 years and relegation-worthy form all added to the overwhelming expectation of a loss. That wasn’t the case though. It may have only been a draw, but a clanger from Kiko Casilla was the only substantial chance the Championship's most dangerous trio - Benrahma, Mbeumo and Watkins - could manage. 

          That performance sparked the revival of faith in both the players and fans.

          Since Brentford, Leeds have won five on the bounce, adding a club record along the way for keeping five consecutive clean sheets. Whilst we found our form, those below us have crumbled, allowing us to open a seven point gap to third-placed Fulham with nine games to go. 

          What changed for Bielsa’s side?

          Bielsa won't take credit for the turn around in form, but he took the blame for the bad results.

          Bielsa gets what it means to be here and all the positivity around the club is down to him, from the in-game tactics to the precise detailing of his training sessions - it isn't by chance that this squad is now excelling.

          The truth is however, even throughout the poor results, we were still the dominant team in most fixtures, and were extremely unlucky to have dropped points. You look back at incidents such as the extremely soft penalty vs Fulham, Nakhi Well’s goal for QPR - which he almost placed on the ground to tap in from two yards - and numerous ungiven penalty shouts and you can see why the team started to look mentally drained. 

          Refereeing decisions weren’t the cause of our bad form, though. They didn’t help, but we had lost sharpness and continued to waste chance after chance. Patrick Bamford’s name still rings around Elland Road each game, the striker with 13 goals in total for the season, despite all of his missed chances.

          The 26-year-old has missed the most ‘big chances’ (25) of any player in the EFL, but we have seen a slight change recently, as Bamford is not having as high a share of the team’s total chances and is focusing on his hold up play which benefits the rest of the team.

          Costa and Harrison

          Helder Costa and Jack Harrison have been vital in the recent run, with both being given more of the ball and more freedom to take on players.

          The uneasy reality is that many attempted crosses are still slung over with no one on the other end of them, but Bielsa has pushed both Costa and Harrison further forward and this tactical tweak has made them more threatening.

          The pair lead the way for chances created in the last five games, creating 19 between them, as well as having nine and six shots respectively. Their increased contributions in matches has been the catalyst behind Leeds finding form again, with others around them also rapidly improving.

          This may not be down to any change Bielsa has made, but Luke Ayling has been the leading man since the Forest game. Most Leeds fans will have seen how distraught and worried the ex-Bristol City defender looked after the 2-0 defeat to Forest, and how starkly that compares to the scenes after his wondergoal against Huddersfield last time out - where he unleashed his mane to the onlooking West Stand.

          Ayling has done the dirty work at the back, winning 63 defensive challenges and making 26 interceptions, as well as flying forward and contributing three matchwinning goals  for the Whites. 

          Build from the back

          The defence has clicked again, limiting our last five opponents to just nine chances, 34 less than our attack has created. The fact we dominate possession in most games under Bielsa, yet out-perform the defensive statistics of the opposition is extraordinary.

          Making more tackles (119 vs 108) and winning more defensive duels (269 vs 223) than our last five opponents combined shows how efficient our defence has been, recovering the pre-Cardiff form that saw us concede just 0.48 goals per game (10 goals in 21 games), a figure that no team in England’s top four tiers, or even UEFA’s top five leagues, could match. 

          Our squad has really looked up for it in recent games and the fans were starting to believe the 16-year wait for Premier League football was over.

          The coronavirus outbreak has stalled the promotion party, but if it gets back underway, this team could finish something special and write their name into Leeds folklore.


           


           

           

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