After Leeds seem to be well on their way to bottling a fourth chance at promotion in as many seasons, Marcelo Bielsa could be looking for new stomping grounds.
When Bielsa took over at Elland Road, Leeds had finished seventh and 13th in the seasons prior – particularly difficult to stomach in 2016/17, when the club was fourth with just eight games left.
And Bielsa’s management seemed to set the ship right for the Yorkshire side, but after slipping into third and then blowing a 1-0 first-leg victory against Derby County, promotion wasn’t to be, despite the marked improvement and probable overachievement of the season.
This season Leeds are on something of a similar trajectory again. While automatic promotion had, for a time, seemed nothing short of a guarantee, it now looks to be escaping Bielsa’s side and the precarious playoffs appear to be calling once more.
The numbers are undoubtedly frustrating for the Argentine, who has seen his side drop an 11-point lead over third place, and a draw against fourth-place Brentford means Fulham have the chance to go second with their game in hand.
Bielsa has taken it upon himself to fix the problem at the club, stating:
Clearly if you have good players and they give their all on the pitch, the conclusion is clear.
I have to understand that it is myself who has to find the solutions.
How refreshing it is to find a manager willing to take responsibility and not shed it onto his players, even if it is somewhat undue in this instance.
But while the club has seen improvement in terms of the final standing, there is little change in what should by and large be expected of a club like Leeds – clutching at wisps of promotion just doesn’t quite cut it.
Regardless, the results of his operation at Leeds – turning them into serious promotion contenders and a shadow of a Premier League side – is still tick in his managerial portfolio.
Bielsa’s attitude towards management could very easily be perceived as Mourinho-esque. He quit Lazio after two days because he believed the club wouldn’t support his transfer needs. He lasted one game at Marseille, resigning after conflict with the club’s management.
The seemingly erratic and somewhat hotheaded nature character of a manager that is severely lacking at times. Football needs its anti-heroes just as a comic book does, a role that Bielsa occupies via the moniker Loco Bielsa.
Should Bielsa’s time at Leeds come to a close, which seems more and more likely if he should fail to secure promotion again, then it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him involved in the Premier League.
Of the current 20 managers in the Premier League, 12 of them have previously managed sides in the Championship. Of those, Eddie Howe, Sean Dyche, Dean Smith, Brendan Rodgers, Steve Bruce, Daniel Farke, Chris Wilder, Nigel Pearson, and Nuno Espírito Santo have all guided sides to promotion.
Not among those crop are managers who already had pedigree, such as Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, or Jose Mourinho. There’s also somebody like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who, for all intents and purposes, was hired to fix problems not entirely centred around football.
Bielsa’s high pressing defensive system of 4-1-4-1 makes his sides tough to break down and relentless in exhausting their opponents. The ability of the players to shift on attack, fullbacks pressing high and a defensive midfielder dropping back, ensures an overload of players going forward.
Rotation is key in his system, with players able to move into different roles and provided space in attacking channels that otherwise may not exist. This rotation circumvents any static across the team and ensures there is dynamism going forward.
Essentially, Bielsa’s aggressive system would adapt well to the Premier League, provided he takes into account the step up in level of skill and endurance. Perhaps Solskjaer could do with watching a few of Leeds’s games this season.