'If I don’t have certainty I don’t answer' - Sod's Law brutalising Leeds United as Marcelo Bielsa explains injuries - YEP 21/12/21
If something can go wrong it is going wrong for Marcelo Bielsa and Leeds United right now.
By Graham Smyth
Freak injuries, stoppage-time goals, questionable, inconsistent officiating and heavy defeats have made it a challenging Christmas for the head coach, to say the least, ahead of Boxing Day’s trip to Liverpool.
Never before had he lost three consecutive league games as Leeds United boss before Arsenal triumphed 4-1 at Elland Road on Saturday evening.
It’s hard to imagine he’s ever gone through a period in which so many key players have picked up injuries, as problem after problem has presented itself but it’s certain that he has never had to contend with players hurting themselves with such a high degree of misfortune. Patrick Bamford’s hamstring injury came during his celebration of a late goal against Brentford. Two of the bones in Pascal Struijk’s feet collided during an ‘explosive moment’ on the training pitch. Liam Cooper did his hamstring landing awkwardly.
The list was extensive in the extreme, even before Charlie Cresswell sustained a shoulder injury in a training-ground accident and guideline-conscious, vaccinated Diego Llorente fell ill to Covid-19 ahead of an Arsenal game that Jack Harrison limped out of. An obvious question to ask, of the coach whose training sessions and playing style are famed for their intensity, is whether or not the sheer number of absentees risks putting an increasing strain on those left, the first teamers still standing in a small squad, who really have no option but to play.
Bielsa, who is content that the injuries are not linked to overexertion, still sees a team capable of running hard.
“The type of injuries we have had are injuries in the tendons and muscles in the lower part of the feet and in the bones of the shoulders, apart from Bamford who got injured celebrating a goal and [Daniel] James who got injured in the last game,” he said.
“They’re not injuries linked to tiredness, the team continues to run as always. On Thursday in the last minute of a practice that was informal, a team-mate fell on Cresswell, who was going to play, it provoked an injury that is complex.
“The player [Llorente] who looks after his health the most in the whole squad, in a squad where all of the players are double or triple vaccinated, gets ill.”
All of this might not prevent a Leeds United XI, cobbled together by leaning on Mark Jackson’s Under-23s, from bringing the club’s trademark effort and fight to a game, but it isn’t helping them at a time when adversity levels were always going to be high. Taking any points from away games at Chelsea and Manchester City before the visit of Arsenal and the Anfield game was a huge ask, and would be of any team with mid-table aspirations. But Sod’s Law is implementing itself in such a way that without the gallows humour that helped Leeds fans through a 16-year EFL journey, tears would be flooding the city.
“The run of form that is so negative that we are going through, is constructed through these types of episodes,” said Bielsa. “Like a goal in minute 93 against Chelsea, a result that is difficult to imagine like at City and in games like [Saturday] in the second half when it was more probable to be 3-2 rather than 4-1, the 4-1 is produced. There were problems that usually are resolved but, in this case, they are not.”
Leeds might have no luck but they have plenty of optimism and fight, at least in Bielsa himself and the fans who continued to sing long after the full-time whistle of Saturday’s defeat. It has been there in some performances too, Chelsea being the prime example. What they need before travelling to Liverpool is hope and Bielsa would dearly love to be able to deliver it in time for Christmas. He just doesn’t want to make promises that can’t be kept. “What I try to say to you is what I consider to be true,” he said.
“If I don’t have certainty then I don’t answer. Cooper has a long period of recovery, Phillips has a long period of recovery.
“Cresswell has a long period. Bamford and James, no - they are not that long but I can’t tell you if they will be available against Liverpool.
“Rodrigo has a problem in his heel which has made him inactive for two weeks and the way to heel or cure the injury is for the pain to disappear.
“The injury for Rodrigo is not frequent. In Pascal’s case, his type of injury you have once or twice a season, he needs the pain to disappear to play. With respect to Rodrigo he won’t play against Liverpool. Pascal is the same as James or Bamford, they are subject to evolution.
“I never do not give out information I do not possess. What I try to avoid is to not say anything I do not know.”
Leeds are long overdue some good luck or good news but Bielsa’s Christmas wish might simply be for a day or two during which things don’t get worse.