Leeds United were labelled “an absolute shambles” after their thrashing by Arsenal. But with revered boss Marcelo Bielsa at the helm, could they really be sliding into trouble this season?
Saturday’s 4-1 defeat made it three losses and 14 goals conceded in eight days, leaving them five points clear of the relegation zone but having played more games than the sides below them.
The Yorkshire club are also in the midst of a severe injury crisis and were missing 10 first-team players on Saturday, with Bielsa naming 15-year-old Archie Gray on the bench.
But the manager, who guided Leeds back to the Premier League two seasons ago, continues to be adored by an Elland Road faithful who stayed vocal in their support.
“It’s an act of love towards the badge,” Bielsa told BBC Sport about the fans’ continuing faith.
“In times where the support mostly only comes when the team is winning, to receive that company and that closeness after a third consecutive defeat – and having conceded 14 goals in three games – distinguishes the public of Leeds.
“It confirms how unconditional they are with their team.”
‘They’re not going to survive in this league’
Leeds went down to a 94th-minute penalty at Stamford Bridge last Saturday and have since suffered sobering defeats at Manchester City, losing 7-0, and now against Arsenal.
“Leeds play like they’re in the school playground,” former Liverpool midfielder Graeme Souness said on Sky Sports. “You have to say Leeds are an absolute shambles.
“They’ve got young players and injuries, but the way they’ve been asked to play, they’re not going to survive in this league.”
Bielsa said before this fixture he was not “unsackable” or “too vain” to believe he could lose his job, but former Whites boss Simon Grayson said the Argentine’s slim squad was being tested.
“To get the number of injuries Leeds have had in this period of time is remarkable,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“Bielsa doesn’t carry big squads in terms of first-team players. He relies a lot on under-23 players to make up the 25-man squad.
“He’s happy working with smaller groups. When things like this happen, you’re vulnerable to injuries and illnesses.”
Leeds’ injury list includes Kalvin Phillips, Patrick Bamford, Liam Cooper, Rodrigo and Dan James.
Bielsa said after Saturday’s match that he “cannot justify the defeat due to the absences”, but did provide some context for Leeds’ problems.
“I can’t ignore that we were missing 10 players,” he explained. “There are things like the participation of [Robin] Koch, who hasn’t played in four months – it wasn’t ideal that he played. On Thursday, a player fell on [Charlie] Cresswell’s shoulder. It caused an injury. He was supposed to play today.
“In the case of [Diego] Llorente – who looks after his health so much – we found out that he was sick and going to be out for 10 days. So there’s eight absences in one line of the team. We have eight defenders less and three forwards less.”
‘I don’t see the fans turning on him’
Souness called Leeds “vulnerable” and said he would be worried if he was a fan. But former Premier League midfielder Danny Murphy believes they will be OK.
“I’m not concerned about Leeds. I think they will be fine,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live.
Former striker Jermaine Beckford agrees, telling Sky Sports: “If you do all the things correctly, the points will come.
“Bielsa doesn’t give in to anyone else, he sticks with the style he wants his side to play. The last couple of weeks he hasn’t had the personnel.
“Bielsa has given the supporters and football club so much more than meets the eye. I don’t see the fans turning on him at all.”