Player Analysis: Does Bielsa keep faith with underperforming trio?

A 5-1 defeat is not the ideal start to the season, that much is clear. The task for Marcelo Bielsa and Leeds now is to dust themselves down and go again but the question remains, does Bielsa stick or twist where team selection is concerned?

It was a humbling defeat for him and his side but does he need to make wholesale changes or does he trust his last eleven once again? Bielsa is the kind of manager who has a trusted core group of players who are often reliable upon even when times get tough so it stands to reason that changes could be few and far between.

Look at the way he stood by Patrick Bamford despite his struggles in front of goal in the Championship allowing Eddie Nketiah’s loan move to capitulate into an abject failure despite the fact he consistently found the back of the net.

Thus, it stands to reason that Bielsa will again trust the same players again despite the debacle in Manchester. That said, it would be hard for even Bielsa to justify not making any changes after the Leeds midfield turned into a turnstile against Leeds’ biggest rivals so I still expect the Argentinian to make one or two changes to try and get the Whites back on track.

So, here’s the three players I think Bielsa could drop after the mauling in Manchester.

Robin Koch

This is perhaps the most obvious one. It’s nothing against Koch, the German is a sturdy centre-back but appeared unsettled in midfield at Old Trafford which is not entirely his fault. After all he’s used to playing in the back four rather than at the base of midfield. After being named on the bench on Saturday, Kalvin Phillips, fresh off the back of a superb summer tournament with England, will come back into the side and his return will likely revitalise Leeds. After all he is the fulcrum of this Leeds United side, and provides a key element to the Whites enabling the way they play.

In the same way N’Golo Kante, Fabinho and Fernandinho have enabled the attacking midfielders at their clubs to flourish by providing a kind of safety net, Phillips underpins the high-pressing, energetic and attacking style of play at the heart of Bielsa’s Leeds. His absence alongside Bielsa’s stubborn commitment to his forward thinking style of play was Leeds’ undoing as it allowed Manchester United’s exciting attackers to run riot over the Leeds defence.

At the base of midfield Koch struggled to stop the ball going through centre field into dangerous areas making just a pair of tackles, a fairly limited three interceptions and being responsible for just one foul indicating an inability to even produce tactical fouls to slow the move forward.

Another crucial aspect of what Phillips brings to Leeds is his ability to move the ball from out to in and from centre field into the final third. Koch’s poor pass completion rate of 74.1% indicates he struggled to do this at the weekend.

Rodrigo

Many believed Leeds United’s eleven appeared unbalanced at Old Trafford on Saturday. A lot of that was down to the fact Leeds lacked midfielders. Kalvin Phillips’ return will help that against Everton but Rodrigo isn’t a natural centre mid and asking him to play that role against a Rafa Benitez team is asking for trouble.

Elsewhere on Saturday, the Whites were forced to name Stuart Dallas at left-back. Dallas is outstanding wherever he plays, but perhaps playing in that role limited what he could contribute against Man United. Bielsa will want to get more out of Dallas and a move into midfield will do just that as Rodrigo drops out and exciting new signing Junior Firpo comes into the side at left-back.

Rodrigo is not a pressing machine like some of the other players in Bielsa’s squad. His 17.08 pressures per 90 is decidedly less than the likes of Jack Harrison and Patrick Bamford offer whilst he only musters 1.48 tackles a game and 0.77 interceptions per 90 indicating an inability to win the ball back which is an important element of Bielsa Ball and especially when playing in midfield.

On the other side of things, Firpo offers 2.48 shot creating actions per 90 and manages an expected goal or an expected assist from fullback once every five games and was one of the best passers from the fullback role in La Liga last term with a pass completion rate of over 90%. This means he could add more to Leeds going forward.

Luke Ayling

Wonder goal aside, many questioned Luke Ayling’s performance against Manchester United. He was found out again and again in defence as the Red Devils scored five goals. With superb youngster Cody Drameh waiting in the wings, Ayling could lose his place in the side following his disappointing showing at Old Trafford as Bielsa tests the quality of Drameh at the highest level.

This is decidedly the least likely change of the three, but it cannot be disputed that Ayling struggled somewhat unusually in Manchester last weekend whilst the young Drameh has shown exciting quality in the few glimpses we’ve had of him.

Perhaps he would inject new life into Leeds and sharpen things up with Ayling looking unusually sloppy misplacing a pass so horrendously that he felt prompted to poke fun at himself on social media.

Given the significant absence of offensive stats from the Leeds fullback on Saturday only having a significant impact in one other attack asides from the goal and his distinctly under par defensive stats, dropping him would potentially wake him up.

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