Opposition view: Bielsa's superb work at Leeds is being boosted by 'spygate' siege mentality
Ahead of today's top-of-the-table clash, Leeds fan and blogger Rob Atkinson feels the fuss surrounding the 'spygate' scandal may be having a positive effect on the leaders ahead of their battle with Norwich City.
How is the mood among Leeds fans after the recent wobble and the attention from ‘spygate’?
The wobble, such as it’s been, was met with a degree of resignation, as this always seems to happen when we’re doing okay. And yet, we’ve stayed top, despite a raft of injuries and three defeats in quick time – so generally, it’s still an upbeat feeling. As for “spygate” there’s a sense that it’s just so ridiculous we can hardly believe there are people trying to get some mileage out of it, with the media seemingly in a feeding frenzy. On the other hand, it appears to be fostering the kind of siege mentality that could be really helpful as the season gets to its sharp end.
Have you been annoyed the issue has become a distraction to a very good season so far?
Yes, annoyed is a good word for it. Because it has been a slight distraction – and yet, see “siege complex” above. The determination displayed at Rotherham to turn the game around and win late on was, most agree, a good sign that the players aren’t now too distracted.
On the pitch, what have been the key influences of Marcelo Bielsa’s management?
I’d sum his key influence up as “making last season’s also-rans look like potential title winners”. Obviously, there’s work-rate, the high press, the fluidity of transition from defence to attack – but the main thing, for the fans anyway, has been this almost miraculous transformation of a squad that hasn’t been enhanced by many significant purchases.
Which players have been the most important?
Kalvin Phillips has been a revelation in a defensive midfield role. We’ve missed him there when he’s had to fill in at centre-back. Kemar Roofe has been brilliant, shouldering the main forward role and getting his goals regularly, but terrorising defences with his constant pressurising too. Lately, youngsters Jack Clarke and Jamie Shackleton have come in and been very impressive, as has reserve centre-back Aapo Halme. But, by and large, they’ve all done well.
Any areas where improvements are needed to remain in the promotion race?
Most Leeds fans would have cited the need for an experienced keeper, and this has been addressed with the signing from Real Madrid of Kiko Casilla. The other areas many identify are wingers and attackers. With Patrick Bamford hopefully back soon, and with Tyler Roberts stepping up when required, we might be okay for attackers – as long as Roofe stays fit.
Are you confident of sealing promotion?
Never confident, always ambitious, latterly quite hopeful. This is Leeds, after all.
Have you been surprised to see Norwich doing well, after United’s 3-0 win at Carrow Road in August?
Not really – I remember the early part of that game, when we got a bit of a chasing for the first 20. And Daniel Farke has the air of a guy who knows what he’s about.
Any City players you’ll be wary of?
To state the obvious, prolific striker Teemu Pukki, who has proved to be an absolute bargain. But there’s quality throughout the squad, as evidenced, just for instance, by the fact that Jordan Rhodes isn’t an automatic starter. But there are rumours that Leeds fans will be trying to “unman” the Norwich attack by holding up pink cards whenever they approach the Leeds area. Can’t confirm or deny that one.
And finally, what is your prediction?
I think that Leeds will be up for this one at a packed and highly vocal Elland Road. I remember being wary of Derby last home game, but quite frankly we blew them away. Norwich are a much better side than Derby, but I’m cautiously hopeful that United will have enough to win. I’ll say 2-0, but it could just as easily be an edgy 3-2. And, through gritted teeth, I wouldn’t be that unhappy with a draw!
• Rob Atkinson writes for LLUUE – Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything. You can read his latest articles at roblufc.org