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Leeds’ agonizing 16-year wait to face bitter rivals Manchester United in the Premier League finally came to an end on Sunday.
However, when the final whistle sounded, many white fans may wish they had to wait a little longer. The Red Devils put their visitors on the sword 6-2 at Old Trafford and, in truth, they could have and perhaps should have been more.
It is natural that after results like this, Marcelo Bielsa’s methods are questioned. Against United, Leeds broke as easily as a wet tissue. His midfield was non-existent, and Scott McTominay was made to look like main Zinedine Zidane as he galloped into the acres of space on either side of Kalvin Phillips.
Leeds’ last line of defense was equally suspect, splitting like the Red Sea every time a United jersey approached. Even Daniel James, who was goalless since the beginning of last season before the game, managed to score.
After the final whistle, those who refuse to worship at El Loco’s altar were quick to stick the knife in, comparing Bielsa’s charges to last season’s Norwich team. In other words, pleasing to the eye but hopeless. A team more focused on “winning the argument” about the “right way to play” than winning soccer games.
Maybe they are right. The six Leeds dispatched on Sunday led to 30 goals conceded in the Premier League this season. That’s more than anyone else in the division.
Before United had a field day, Leicester, Crystal Palace and Chelsea all benefited from Leeds’ tendency to leave mountains of space for the opposition to enter.
But this is only one side of the coin.
Sure, Bielsa’s strong, ruthless and high-octane pressure style can occasionally lead to nightmares like United’s game. On the other hand, it can also lead to football in its most devastating form.
Let’s take Leeds’ most recent game before the Old Trafford debacle. Against Newcastle, they were extraordinary. Every time they attacked, they seemed to score. At times it seemed that there were 100 white people on the field, not 11.
They thoroughly deserved their 5-2 victory.
This was not an isolated incident either. Previously this season Aston Villa and Everton had suffered similar fates and few teams have given champion Liverpool a better game so far. No one has scored more in the lower half of the table.
These two wingers are the essence of Leeds de Bielsa in the Premier League. It is a delicate balancing act between the sublime and the ridiculous. This is how your manager has always operated and now he will not change his ways.
Neither should he. Leeds knew exactly what they were getting when they hired him. He is a soccer fanatic, fervently committed to his attacking style and fans adore him for it.
Without wanting to sound like that kindAnyone who criticizes Leeds for their poor defensive record just doesn’t get Bielsa. For better or for worse, he is a man who would rather be relegated than sacrifice his football principles.
This means that results like United’s are not only possible, but necessary to get the full El Loco experience.