Losing to Preston the best thing that could have happened to Leeds
Nobody likes losing, least of all football managers, and maybe least of all Marcelo Bielsa. He’s not a pragmatist when it comes to football. He’s passionate. He’s a professional, but you also get the feeling that underneath the poker-face exterior, there’s a fan in there who loves every win just as much as anyone in the South Stand. Ultimately, he said it was ‘painful to be out of a competition’ last night. That's a competition. Any competition.
And yet, maybe more so than for any other manager or any other team, last night’s result was the best thing that could have happened. For three reasons.
1) Bielsa’s small squad and high-tempo football
Bielsa has a penchant for a small squad, preferring a tight first-team group plus some academy graduates who he believes could make the step-up. This, added to his up-tempo brand of football, means tight schedules in multiple competitions are not his friend.
It also means he has no need of extra competitions to give games to players who would not get on the field otherwise. They'll get their chance in the league when the schedule gets tight and injuries take their toll. The Carabao Cup was simply a distraction with the possibility to mentally and physically tire a small squad of whom Bielsa’s football already demands… a lot.
If anything, Bielsa needs to be stopped from himself. Bielsa is a winner. He wants to win every game. That means that with Leeds losing, Samuel Saiz, who shouldn’t have played a single minute last night a mere three days before the biggest game of Leeds United’s season so far, came off the bench. For the sake of Leeds United’s promotion hopes , maybe it’s good news that this loss has taken away some of those opportunities to try to win at all costs.
If you’re not aware, not one of the chosen few, let me tell you how it feels to be a Leeds United fan right now. It’s vaguely incomprehensible, it feels unimaginably joyous, each match is an event that can be anticipated rather than feared, you sit slightly more comfortably in your seat because Bielsa has transformed a squad who won four games in five months into a team who do nothing but. He appears completely omnipotent, directing events from his bucket throne. Winning now appears to happen as if on a production line - the logical conclusion of playing a match is winning it.
Now imagine that from the perspective of a player. Your own abilities apparently completely transformed, a god among men in long socks and shin pads, free-flowing confidence having long-ago replaced lactic acid in your veins. But maybe you begin to believe too much in the divinely ordained sequence of events. You begin to believe that simply taking to the field will result in a Bielsa, and by convenient extension, Leeds United victory. It probably hadn’t got to that point yet, but this certainly will do no harm in keeping players’ minds focused going into a huge league game on Friday.
3) Transfer market
Talking of Friday… Friday’s the day the loan deadline will close. Currently, Leeds United are reportedly in talks with one Premier League club about a backup for Samu Saiz, who has been integral to Leeds’ hot start – as he was last season too, before his form faded. This would be welcome, but, despite the faith and trust I have in Bielsa, seemingly insufficient by itself. The squad could still use some bolstering. Maybe the lack of depth highlighted by last night’s performance will force Bielsa to reconsider and push some more deals through before the deadline, which could bear significant fruit in those bleak winter months.
So, there we have it. This might look like a desperate and tribal attempt to justify a bad loss. I didn’t enjoy last night, and it wasn’t nice to experience losing for the first time this season. But it was, for the reasons outlined above, a necessary and potentially beneficial experience. Bring on the Leeds-less Carabao Cup draw. Bring on Friday.