Bielsa with work to do after Leeds United’s difficult start to Premier League season

One game in and already Marcelo Bielsa has problems to solve with his Leeds United team if they are not to suffer second season syndrome in the Premier League.

By Tony Harber
Sunday, 15th August 2021, 10:38 am
Updated Sunday, 15th August 2021, 10:56 am
Luke Ayling, whose wonder goal against Manchester United proved in vain.
Luke Ayling, whose wonder goal against Manchester United proved in vain.

While the Whites head coach did not blame individuals there were some seriously deficient displays as Leeds lost heavily at Old Trafford for the second season in succession.

And the same naive traits that saw them lost 6-2 last year appeared again as they went down 5-1 for possibly the worst start to a campaign that anyone could have envisaged.

The Whites were guilty of giving their hosts far too much space and allowed them to play their speedy counter attack style that also ripped Leeds apart on their previous visit to this ground.

Maybe they got carried away after Luke Ayling’s stunning strike made it 1-1 early in the second half, but an equally stunning - for the wrong reasons - defensive collapse saw Leeds go from a promising position to completely out of the game with three goals conceded in just eight second half minutes.

The absence of Kalvin Phillips, held back as he was late into pre-season because of his exploits with England in the Euros, was particularly noticeable as his replacement, Robin Koch, struggled to contain Manchester number 10 Bruno Fernandes, who was able to complete a hat-trick without a penalty being one of his goals.

Other Leeds players also failed to track runners as the hosts’ pace proved too much for the Whites to handle, although there was at least some promise in some of the play going forward to suggest the team has not lost all of its spark from last season just yet.

Bielsa refused to blame the absence of Phillips for the bad defeat.

He said: “Phillips is a player who always shines. I don’t think it’s a question of individualities as to why we couldn’t play a more balanced game.

“It was difficult for us to take the ball off them and difficult for us to create.

“I liked how (Koch)] played. I thought he was a dynamic player, he was present, he was willing, committed. He made lots of effort and he had presence throughout the game.

“It was very difficult for us to recover the ball. It was for a number of reasons, none of them the high press or the individual performance of a player.”

Bielsa actually felt that his team were closer to their opponents than at Old Trafford last year.

He added: “In the previous game there were moments with a big difference between the two teams, in this game those moments were less.”

In front of the biggest attendance for a football match in England for two years, the home team tore into Bielsa’s men at the start as they had done last term, but the Whites held firm this time and after a sluggish start began to settle to play some of their trademark smart football.

The first big chance came for the home side when Raphinha gifted them possession with a sloppy back pass and although defender Pascal Struijk reached the ball first he could only kick the ball against Mason Greenwood before it had to be tipped over by keeper Illan Meslier.

At the other end, Raphinha broke free for the first time, cut inside and saw a shot saved. From the resulting corner, Jack Harrison’s volley was also kept out by keeper David De Gea.

Paul Pogba missed a big opportunity for Manchester with only Meslier to beat, but Leeds were now giving as much as they got at this stage with Mateusz Klich forcing a fine save from De Gea with a curling strike from the edge of the box and Bamford heading wide.

Just as it looked like they were gaining the ascendancy Bielsa’ men conceded as Pogba chipped a pass over the top of the defence and Koch failed to run back with Fernandes, who was able to just beat Meslier for the opening goal.

For the start of the second half Bielsa handed left-back Junior Firpo his debut, putting Stuart Dallas into midfield in place of Rodrigo, who failed to make any sport of impact in the first 45 minutes.

The Whites were level within four minutes of the restart as Ayling was found in space by Dallas and fired an unstoppable shot into the top corner of the net for a memorable goal from 20 yards out.

Their joy was not to live long as their next attack came to nothing and they were caught short with eight men upfield. Quick as a flash, Greenwood was sent clear, outpaced Struijk to score with a smart shot past Meslier.

Within two minutes it was 3-1 as Pogba played in Fernandes and his shot could not quite be cleared off the line by Ayling.

Worse was to come for stunned Leeds with Fernandes racing clear again, from a position that would have been given offside last season, and smacked an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net.

Leeds heads went down for a spell and further awful defending allowed several home players the freedom of Old Trafford to score a fifth goal with Fred on target.

With the game effectively over the pace of it dropped and there were no more alarms for the overrun defence while Leeds should have managed a consolation goal, but Raphinha fired wide with only De Gea to beat.

That summed up their awful day and a rapid improvement will be demanded by Bielsa for the first home game of the season next Saturday against Everton.

Manchester United 5

(Fernandes 30, 54, 60, Greenwood 52, Fred 68)

Leeds United 1

(Ayling 49)

Premier League

Attendance: 72,732

Manchester: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw; McTominay (Matic 69), Fred; Fernandes, Pogba (Martial 75), James (Sancho 75); Greenwood.

Leeds: Meslier; Ayling, Cooper, Struijk, Dallas; Koch; Klich, Raphinha, Harrison (Costa 69), Rodrigo (Firpo 45); Bamford (Roberts 76).

Referee: Paul Tierney