Marcelo Bielsa has brought some interesting methods to Leeds United, with many of them helping to improve things in and around Elland Road.
Leeds finished third under Bielsa last season, and in the current campaign, they’ve started with seven points from nine, with the hope they can once again challenge for promotion.
One tactic that Bielsa has carried into this season from last year is his insistence on playing his fringe players in the under-23 fixtures. Yesterday, Helder Costa, Eddie Nketiah and Ezgjan Alioski were selected, featuring in a 3-2 win over Millwall.
In this latest Six Point Opinion, we break down Bielsa’s decision to field such strong under-23 sides…
Firstly, explain why Bielsa does this?
“Bielsa likes to give minutes to all his first-team players, and given that he’s named three unchanged XIs in the Championship so far, he feels there’s a need to give Costa, Nketiah etc. a run out.
“Of course, they’ll feature in the League Cup’s early rounds, but with limited action at Wigan on Saturday, and an unchanged side expected to take on Brentford on Wednesday, there’s not much chance of long minutes for the fringe players.
“So, for Bielsa, he likes to see them featuring in the under-23s.”
So, what are the risks and rewards?
“The rewards are that these players are getting match-sharp. Of course, the standard in the 23s doesn’t match the Championship, but playing 45-60 minutes is good for the fringe players. When Bielsa needs them to step in, they’ll be ready.
“However, there are risks with it too – mainly injury.
“Leeds had rotten luck with injuries over the full season, with big ones picked up in the under-23s.”
Do you think some of those injuries will be at the back of Bielsa’s mind?
“You’d imagine so, they were such a hindrance to Leeds last season.
“Without those player setbacks, Leeds might’ve won promotion to the Premier League, and the last thing that Bielsa will want is to lose a Costa or a Nketiah long-term.”
Will that limit some players’ involvement?
“Potentially, but even last year’s injuries didn’t stop Bielsa naming his first-team players in the 23s if they weren’t playing enough.
“He won’t want injuries, but he also won’t want his players not playing enough football when he might need them ready at the drop of a hat.”
Is the inclusion of so many first-teamers hindering Leeds’ young players?
“That certainly doesn’t seem to be the case, with Leeds’ academy players regularly involved in the first-team.
“We’ve seen Alfie McCalmont, Jamie Shackleton, Leif Davis and Mateusz Bogusz involved in first-team squads this season, so there’s definitely a clear path of the youngsters to follow.
“In many ways, having these senior players turning out for the 23s will help them get used to first-team demands.”
Finally, can we expect this to continue throughout the season?
“Absolutely, Bielsa is set in his ways and he isn’t going to change for anyone.
“Bielsa likes his players to be playing regularly, and when there’s limited first-team minutes and no League Cup football, expect to see senior players in the under-23s.
“You can almost guarantee that before we see Luke Ayling or Tyler Roberts in the first-team they will have had at least 45 minutes for the 23s. It is just the way Bielsa works.”