When you have a head coach that challenges the norms and questions accepted wisdom, the established order of football’s old school are always going to sit up and take notice.
“A man with new ideas is a madman, until his ideas triumph,” is one of the most popular quotes attributed to Marcelo Bielsa and even features on the mural of the Leeds United head coach in Hyde Park.
One of the common sticks that the less-enlightened members of the English football media like to repeatedly use to beat Bielsa and Leeds with is the theory that the Whites’ high-octane style cannot be maintained for a full campaign, as they sit and wait for a late-season drop-off.
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A Google search of the words ‘Bielsa’ and ‘burnout’ brings up 186,000 hits, and while the issue of whether or not Bielsa’s teams do or do not tire is a valid subject to discuss, far too often it is simply used as a throwaway criticism from a pundit who has not done their homework.
We’re now approaching the halfway point of the season and possibility of any below-average Leeds United performance in the coming weeks being labelled as a sign of this ‘burnout’ will no doubt increase.
However, a significant counterpoint has emerged following Leeds’ defeat in the FA Cup this weekend.
As Twitter statistic guru @lufcstats points out, Leeds’ early FA Cup exit, combined with their immediate departure from the League Cup earlier this season means that Leeds’ 2020-21 season will see them play just 40 matches.
That means the current campaign will be shortest season in terms of the number of matches played in Leeds’ entire 101-year history, coming in one match shorter than the 2003-04 season, where they played 41 matches.
A longer league campaign, plus an extra League Cup match meant the 2019-20 season was 49 matches long, while Bielsa took charge of 51 games in his first season at the club when the Whites fell short in the Championship play-offs.
With Leeds playing almost 20 per cent fewer matches than they did last year, it makes the burnout argument even harder to subscribe to.
Another myth-busting statistic is the phenomenal physical performance Leeds put in against West Bromwich Albion last month. The match at The Hawthorns, the highest Premier League stadium above sea level, came just 52 hours after an unchanged Leeds beat Burnley and saw them run 119.14 kilometers, their highest of the season.
Next up for Leeds is the visit of Brighton & Hove Albion to Elland Road on Saturday.