Who is to blame for Leeds’ current free-fall into the Championship – Bielsa or the board?

Leeds United’s traveling supporters are perhaps the most loyal in all of the Premier League and that was evident once again at Anfield when their team was getting beaten 6-0 by Liverpool. Even whilst the home support trickled out after feasting on a rich display of goals, the Leeds fans were still in full voice despite just being comprehensively outplayed. Incredibly, Marcelo Bielsa’s name was sung in extra time even after his side had just conceded half a dozen goals.  

To those neutrals looking on, the away fans’ unwavering support for their manager would have made for unbelievable viewing when you consider that this isn’t the first time Leeds have been ripped apart. Indeed, Liverpool’s six goals came on the back of a 7-0 obliteration at the Etihad Stadium in December, albeit against a Man City side that are enjoying a near-perfect season. Worryingly, the tally that Jurgen Klopp’s men racked up against Bielsa’s side in late February means Leeds now have the worst defensive record in the whole of the Premier League, having let in an eye-watering 56 goals in just 25 games as of the 24th of February. For further comparison, take into account that the Whites only let in 54 goals during the whole of the 2020/2021 season when they finished in ninth place. 

The numbers don’t lie and tell a very straightforward story of how Leeds have dramatically stalled and are now in free-fall with the Championship the likely destination of their crash. It has, to say the least, been a traumatic season for Leeds and now that the prospect of relegation looks a distinct one, there is a desperate scramble to try and figure out what has gone wrong, and unsurprisingly, who is to blame for it all?  

The reaction of the fans during Leeds’ annihilation at Anfield will tell you that it’s not Bielsa, but is there actually a case for the Argentine to answer for, or can the blame be laid squarely at the foot of the board? 

Bielsa can be his own worst enemy

It’s no secret that Leeds have been severely hit by injuries this season with the loss of the club’s best player, Kalvin Phillips, being the hardest felt at Elland Road. The England Men’s Player of the Year is very much the glue that holds Bielsa’s risk-and-reward setup together and without him, Leeds barely tread water.  

Given that Phillips has been injured for most of the season, Bielsa has tried to find the personnel to fill his role and in doing so, has needlessly overthought the equation; which is becoming an infuriating pastime of Bielsa’s that often creates more problems than solutions. A recent example of this was playing attacking midfield Mateusz Klich in the deep-lying defensive role against Everton whilst leaving Adam Forshaw, who is an out-and-out number six, on the bench.  

The Whites would go on to lose that game 3-0 which was the first time that fans felt relegation could actually be on the cards in the Barclays Premier League. Those fears were not unfounded. Indeed, Bielsa has continued to tinker with the side instead of adopting a more pragmatic approach which has resulted in Leeds, as of the 24th of February, being priced at 2/1 in the most recent sports betting Betway markets for Premier League relegation. Now, if you consider that Leeds were at 12/1 to go down in November, then you’re left with the inevitable conclusion of Bielsa having had ample opportunity to change the direction of travel but instead, has stubbornly stuck to his footballing philosophy which has, in reality, done untold damage to the club’s chances of staying up.  

The board rolled the dice

The Leeds United board took the decision not to sign any new players during the January transfer market as they felt that the players returning from injury would provide the firepower that the club needed to get themselves out of harm’s way. It was a bold decision that was labeled unnecessarily risky at the time by the club’s fans given how much Leeds were down to the bare bones.  

It’s worth keeping in mind now that the Leeds board have in the past often encouraged Bielsa to sign players but have been met with resistance as the 66-year-old doesn’t want to recruit numbers for the sake of it. Bielsa’s strategy revolves around using a small squad of no more than 15 players which can pay dividends as far as intimate knowledge of his system goes, but when the health of the players is in question as injury ravages the club, like it has done to Leeds, the consequences are absolutely dire.  

In truth, you could travel to any country and any league in the world and you wouldn’t find a manager who thinks that a squad of this size is a wise idea when half the first team is on the treatment table.  

Essentially, you could probably say that the Leeds board should have been firmer with Bielsa about allowing new players to join the club but now, having not done that, the Argentine is asking academy players to keep the Whites in the Premier League.  

The buck stops with Bielsa

Once again, this transfer policy that has resulted in Leeds not being equipped with the players needed to stave off relegation is a direct result of Bielsa’s wishes of having a meagre squad. On top of that, when you consider that the Argentine has also made several costly and even unforgivable mistakes when it comes to team selection, the irrefutable conclusion is that Bielsa must shoulder the lion’s share of responsibility for the position Leeds find themselves in.  

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