Leeds United need a new identity to supplant what left with Marcelo Bielsa

Ian King
Diogo Jota scores for Liverpool against Leeds United in the Premier League

Leeds United have now shipped 11 goals in their last two home home matches, with little sign that they’ve improved since Marcelo Bielsa was sacked.


The easiest way of finding out how Leeds have played in their latest fixture is to look at the trending topics on Twitter to see if Marcelo Bielsa’s name is amongst them.

Whenever Leeds lose, Bielsa’s name starts to raise its head again, a reminder of considerably better times than much of the last couple of years. This is understandable. It may all have ended badly, but at least Bielsa gave Leeds United an identity, something that has often felt missing since he left.

The anger felt by so many supporters when Bielsa was removed from his position might have been somewhat ameliorated had his successors been more successful, but this has pointedly not been the case. Jesse Marsch was able to keep the club in the Premier League by the skin of their teeth, but this season has seen little substantial improvement, and with the season reaching its closing stages and Marsch already gone, they are now locked into a relegation battle that they don’t seem particularly well-equipped to fight.

By just about any standards you care to consider, this has been a disastrous week for Leeds United. In the space of just eight days they’ve shipped 11 goals in two matches, all the worse because both of those games were at Elland Road. Against Crystal Palace, they started reasonably well, created a couple of chances and led thanks to a goal from Patrick Bamford. But an equaliser in first-half stoppage-time from Marc Guehi seemed to knock the stuffing out of them, and Palace ended up running out comfortable 5-1 winners.

Against Liverpool, things only got even worse. For the second game in a row, Leeds held their own until their didn’t anymore, and while there might have been an element of misfortune about the first Liverpool goal on account of what looked like a handball against Trent Alexander-Arnold which gave possession of the ball to the visitors in the first place, that didn’t excuse the collapse that followed.

Leeds were two goals down by half-time, and even pulling one back a couple of minutes into the second half didn’t seem to breathe that much life back into them and Liverpool ended up scoring six against a backline which collapsed like a house of cards in a hurricane.

Javi Gracia looked shell-shocked in his post-match interviews, and who could blame him? Leeds had won their last game before the Palace game with an intense performance against fellow strugglers Nottingham Forest, a result which, coming on top of their previous 4-2 win at Wolves, had indicated that a team that has been struggling near to the relegation places for much of the season would have too much about them to end it there.

But it’s taken just eight days for the post-Forest optimism to almost completely dissipate, and even though he takes ultimate responsibility for these two home thrashings, it’s difficult to pin too much blame on the manager alone. After all, he’s only been with the club for eight weeks, and Leeds have been performing like this for much of the season.

Indeed, the 11 goals conceded against Crystal Palace and Liverpool mean that they’ve now conceded more Premier League goals this season than any other, which feels like another worry when we consider that goal difference might yet come to determine who stays up and who goes down.

For those who had fallen in love with Bielsa and the way that he managed their club, this is a difficult pill to swallow. It is clear that the identity that Leeds gained under him was valuable to a lot of supporters, but getting rid of him has brought no improvement whatsoever. This time last year, Leeds were in 16th place in the Premier League, on 33 points and with six games left to play. At the time of writing, they’re back in 16th place in the table with 29 points and seven games left to play. The big concern is that whereas last year they were eight points above the relegation places at this point of the season, this time around that gap is only two.

The congestion at the bottom of the Premier League is finally starting to ease a little. Crystal Palace and Wolverhampton Wanderers are both now more or less safe, while Bournemouth’s recent run of four wins from six games has left them on the brink of safety as well, while West Ham’s recent upturn in form leaves them just a win or two from likely salvation.

This leaves five clubs, all of which have lost both of their last two games. Leeds are back in exactly the same position that they were in exactly a year ago; if anything, their position is even more precarious.

The upshot of all this is that for the second year in a row Leeds are involved in a relegation scrap which seems likely to go to the wire, and this means that the future will have to wait again while the present is dealt with. But regardless of the outcome, the end of the season will be upon us in just a few short weeks and the club needs a plan beyond then. Because it feels as though the biggest thing that Leeds United lost with the departure of Marcelo Bielsa was an identity, and the nearest they’ve found to a replacement has been this slightly chaotic entity which will sail close to relegation until it finally ensnares them.

The short cut to this is obvious: another new manager. But Javi Gracia may yet keep them in the Premier League, so the temptation to keep him on should he do so will be great. That’s problematic in itself, because once you get your club locked into this sort of cycle of changing manager every few months it can be very difficult to break away from.

But if the alternative is dropping back into the Championship, which is the better option? Because since the departure of Marcelo Bielsa Leeds United have been drifting, and have been drifting close to relegation.

For supporters, it may be a case of Hobson’s choice over something they don’t have a say over in the first place. Leeds United need a full reset, but the nature of the churn in which they’ve found themselves means that this may not even be possible until relegation comes, and the ramifications of that on the club’s financial wellbeing will certainly not be positive.

But whatever happens by the end of this season, the owners of the club need to give greater consideration to how they can rebuild that sense of unity which seemed to characterise the club under the manager whose influence continues to inform the feelings of supporters, more than a year after his departure.

There’s been insufficient improvement under Bielsa’s successors really to justify his dismissal, and until that sense of identity starts to grow again, it seems most likely that Leeds will continue to bounce from pillar to post, unsure of who they even truly are.