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As Marcelo Bielsa picked the bones from one of his most difficult weeks as Leeds United manager, El Loco offered an insight into the methods to lift his teams out of a slump.
The six days since the defeat to Southampton has been focused on the the psychological, about “convincing” his players they can return to the form of last season when they breezed back into the top flight and became the Premier League’s entertainers.
While Leeds have been hit by injuries in their second season after promotion from the Championship, the loss at St Mary’s was concerning for Bielsa as his team had been outrun by Ralph Hasenhüttl’s team.
Aside from matches with a red card, it was the first time an opponent had covered more ground than a Bielsa team in the last two seasons. “It's one of the things that I observed with worry,” said the Argentine coach.
Bielsa has been hampered by injuries to key players, which is one of the biggest difference in his sophomore campaign in the Premier League. Kalvin Phillips will miss Saturday’s game against Wolves which will make controlling central areas harder, while Patrick Bamford, Luke Ayling and Robin Koch are also significant absences.
Even without those key men, the fundamentals of running further than opponents is expected by Bielsa and has made it a week of reflection at the club’s Thorp Arch training base.
“Yes, [it was] one of the most difficult, perhaps there's been five or six but this was one of the most difficult,” Bielsa said.
“What makes a manager big is how they manage the bad moments, not how they get to the good moments. The great moments, the players are usually exclusively responsible for them but the bad moments demands some management.
“There's a phrase that I read not so long ago, that teams are made out of crystal. It's difficult to make them solid but they break from one day to the other.”
Bielsa cites a period of his career when he succeeded the legendary coach Leo Beenhakker at Club America in Mexico and contrasting the Dutchman’s method of forgetting about a bad performance and moving on. For Bielsa, the defeat this week has hurt and has tested him like no other time in England.
He is committed to being the “protagonists” in games and starting the weekend round of games one place above the relegation zone will not mean changing his attacking philosophy. Another method of raising morale is refusing to single out mistakes of individuals, insisting it will a collective effort to get Leeds back up the table.
“I don't ignore that the last game wasn't just another game,” he said. “It was a game that we were very far from playing how we tried to play and the goal was produced through a counter-attack, which is also one of the other criticism the team receives.
“After you've taken on board these errors, to see if you have the resources and the capacities to commit them again, to not commit them again. Put them to the test during the week, [with] the fortitude to avoid repeating.
“Another thing that is very important is that every player feels that with any error that he makes he knows that he's not going to be singled out or made responsible for that error but that the group is going to find a solution for that error.
“It's very difficult to imagine the game in a different type of way [of playing]. We try to have the ball more than the opponent. We try to take the ball from our half to the opponent's half without putting the ball too much at risk,” he said.
For all of Bielsa’s methods, they will be a better team with their key players returning. Phillips needs more time training, Bamford and Ayling are out for another two games, Koch misses another month and Junior Firpo, his first-choice left-back, is also sidelined. At least he has Raphinha returning against Wolves after the international schedule prevented him being ready for Southampton last week.
“Last season, Leeds were the team who used the least amount of players, they were the team who changed the least amount of players to form the starting XI and they were the team who ran the most. We suffered a lot of injuries and sometimes simultaneously and in the same position,” said Bielsa.