London ball

Stop Going Wrong Leeds, London • The Square Ball

Making the impossible possible has been Marcelo Bielsa’s greatest gift to Leeds United, but even he has failed to break the hex the FA Cup holds over the club. Aside from the reality TV stars in Crawley, however, he’s at least provided a blueprint for respectable outings.

As the kick-off approached on Sunday, the thought of Leeds playing the FA Cup third round live on TV gave me a hint of anxiety, scared of the horrors about to ruin my weekend. . Instead, losing 2-0 to West Ham was a lot like losing 1-0 to Arsenal during the promotion season. TV cameras were in the Emirates in January 2020 waiting for two teams prone to embarrassment, only to broadcast a rotating Leeds side ridiculously outperforming Arsenal in the first half before falling to a frustrating goal in second. We even had an excuse to yell at VAR for not punishing Alexandre Lacazette’s rake in the back of Gaetano Berardi’s Achilles.

Two years later, Leeds’ last FA Cup loss followed a similar scenario. Leeds weren’t as dominant in the first half as they were at Arsenal, but David Moyes couldn’t be tempted by as many changes as Mikel Arteta, naming a side close to his favorite eleven in the Premier League, while Bielsa took over Robbie Gotts’ role as the surprise starter, picking Lewis Bate and Leo Hjelde without a single minute from the bench to set them up. Bate’s debut matches something Angus Kinnear said on The Square Ball podcast ahead of the new season. Most of the young rookies embark on a two-year process to acclimate to Bielsa football with one season in the Under-23s before securing first-team opportunities in the following campaign, but Bate is more advanced in its first year of development, if not entirely. ready for an accelerated second season style breakthrough. Making his debut against West Ham feels more like a launching pad for bigger things to come for Bate, while Gotts’ appearance against Arsenal seemed like a reward for his persistence for thirteen years in the academy and 35 unused games. on the bench of the first team. Illan Meslier made his own debut that night against Arsenal, evolving over the next two years from spraying sixty-yard passes to Emirates like Lorient Pirlo, to attempting to score from a corner to Stratford.

VAR added pantomime villainy yet again, finding no reason to ignore Jarrod Bowen’s obvious offside in the build-up to Manuel Lanzini’s opener, but allowing the goal nonetheless. This meant that a Leeds side made up of five U23s were beaten by a goal that shouldn’t have held up and an injury-time counterattack they were susceptible to as they continued to equalize. A different ricochet off Dan James’ ankles and the game could have been very different, but just like the loss at Arsenal, it’s hard to be too disappointed when the priorities remain the league rather than the cup.

Bielsa knows better than anyone that everyone cannot be liked, and Leeds know better than anyone that the London press cannot be trusted. A game of fine margins and little excitement is made to look like a return of the legendary West Ham Way in The Guardian’s match report, written by West Ham fan Jacob Steinberg. “West Ham happily accepted a drama-free afternoon,” according to Steinberg. They “crossed paths”, “comfortably keeping Leeds at bay”. Declan Rice “has always been in charge in the midfield”. Hjelde’s impressive debut was relegated to the collection of defenders who “spent most of the game bouncing off Michail Antonio”, and were at fault for “naive defense” in Lanzini’s offside goal. Lewis Bate looked “light”. Steinberg describes Leeds as “toothless,” “zestless” and – let’s get back to the gums – “toothless” again for good measure. Leeds weren’t great, Bielsa admitted it, but was West Ham really that different?

To give Steinberg credit, he at least noticed that Bate was replaced by Stuart Dallas at halftime, a detail that has been passed over by The Telegraph’s Matt Law, who has previously refused to pay attention to what Bielsa is doing. . “It was no surprise that Leeds, for whom Luke Ayling cleared a Bowen shot off the line in the first ten minutes, made a change at the break – sending Raphinha to replace Sam Greenwood,” Law wrote, before naming Dallas from Leeds’ unused substitutes and attributing Bate’s performance 5/10 in his player ratings, likely losing points for his anonymity in the second half.

Of course, none of this is new. In October 1989, Leeds faced West Ham at Upton Park with the national media watching from the press gallery as the top flight took a break due to the internationals. Appalled at Howard Wilkinson’s side having the temerity to beat the hosts, who started the season as joint favorites for promotion alongside Leeds, the post-match press conference consisted of half an hour of journalists desperate to resurrect the “Dirty Leeds” tag asking Wilkinson to explain and defend the football his team had just played. “This game made you cry,” Brian Woulnough wrote in The Sun. Patrick Collins deposited the pearls he was holding to write in the Mail on Sunday: “The game has offered a pretty shameful display of all that is indefensible in the English game. Leeds never attracted affection, but at least their teams from previous generations possessed real ability. All gone. Replaced by cynical brawlers who won three points, fifteen offside decisions and contempt for neutrals. ‘ Don Warters wrote in the Yorkshire Evening Post that many managers are said to have left the press conference, but Wilkinson knew what to expect. In an interview with Look North, he described the media coverage as “Deep down, very, very funny, because it was, in a way, so predictable.”

Law’s blind spot when it comes to Bate is a good example of the precarious fate young players try to escape while establishing themselves. Robbie Gotts had his day at Arsenal but had to move to Barrow to get the opportunities he needed to realize his potential as a footballer. Cody Drameh came off the bench against West Ham but was linked with a Cardiff loan by the end of Sunday. Drameh and Leeds must decide whether its development is better served by the killball under Bielsa or the championship football under Steve Morison, who has previously criticized elite academies for not producing “manly” players. His complaints were sparked by another young full-back, Ben Chilwell, who Morison accused of being too scared of Millwall fans to make touches as he played in an FA Cup draw for Leicester at the Den. Chilwell called Morison’s claims a “garbage load.” “I think one of the older Millwall players might have wanted to pick on one of the younger boys,” Chilwell said. “I’m not going to find out. It’s strange. But everyone has their own thing. If that’s what he wants to do, I’ll let him. Chilwell may have missed Morison’s lessons in masculinity, but England’s caps and the Champions League winner’s medal likely make up for it. Regardless of injuries which test how far the Leeds squad can stretch, perhaps staying as far away from Morison as possible is the best thing for Drameh’s long-term prospects.

What do all these Cockneys really want? Lose in London and we are light and not manly enough. Win in London and we’re all wrong with the English game. On Sunday, Bielsa’s Leeds tried first and were predictably ridiculed. Back in London to face West Ham again next week, let’s try the second option to win, even if it upsets a few people in the capital. “What was important was that we were happy,” Howard Wilkinson told Moscowhite for the book and movie “Do you want to win?”, While reflecting on the Upton Park investigation in 1989. ” If we were happy then I knew we could make everyone happy. ” Well, maybe not everyone. Only the people who really matter. ??

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