Leeds United: How manager Marcelo Bielsa is getting the very best out of his limited resources

Leeds captain Luke Ayling and Jack Clarke dive into the fans to celebrate Kemar Roofe's late late winner. Picture Tony Johnson.
Leeds captain Luke Ayling and Jack Clarke dive into the fans to celebrate Kemar Roofe's late late winner. Picture Tony Johnson.

The story of Marcelo Bielsa’s first season at Leeds United will recount how far he took the club with so few players and so little in reserve.

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At Aston Villa on Sunday, where Leeds produced a monumental comeback from 2-0 down, Bielsa was stretched to the extent that single members of Villa’s line-up were earning more a week than his entire bench combined.

Leeds Jack Clarke celebrates his goal. Picture Tony Johnson.

Leeds Jack Clarke celebrates his goal. Picture Tony Johnson.

Six of United’s substitutes at Villa Park were Under-23s, giving the bench an average age of less than 20, and one of those - 18-year-old defender Leif Davis - was bounced into an unplanned debut after left-back Barry Douglas succumbed to illness during the warm-up.

Bielsa’s original plan this season was to run a small squad and supplement it with players from Leeds’ academy but the reliance on the club’s development squad has been heavier than he expected.

Davis is the fifth Under-23 to make a first senior appearance under Bielsa, following Jamie Shackleton, Jack Clarke, Will Huffer and Aapo Halme. Robbie Gotts, who made the bench at Villa, will not be far behind.

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Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa. Picture Tony Johnson.

Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa. Picture Tony Johnson.

Clarke turned Sunday’s match in Birmingham, shining in front of a crowd of more than 41,000. Davis grew into the game and Shackleton replaced him in the second half, helping Leeds to force a 3-2 win in the fifth minute of injury-time.

“We’ve received a lot of support from the academy,” Bielsa said. “Clarke, Davis and Shackleton played with a level that is not common for young players.

“I didn’t know this stadium here (Villa Park) but you feel who is playing a home game and who is playing an away game.

“These three players coped naturally with the atmosphere.

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“Sometimes we think that the 18 most experienced players are going to play more but unexpected things gave a chance to these young players, who’ve been involved in the first-team for many months.

“The experienced players accepted the young players and integrate them. This helps the young players.”

Elsewhere, Kemar Roofe insisted he was refusing to pay attention the Championship table with Leeds United bidding to hit the 50-point mark when they tackle Blackburn Rovers on Boxing Day.

The striker claimed he had turned a blind eye to the make-up of the division after his last-gasp winner at Aston Villa sent the Whites into Christmas Day in first place.

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United responded to Norwich City’s late victory at Blackburn on Saturday by inflicting a 3-2 defeat on Villa in the 95th minute the following afternoon, reclaiming top spot at the halfway stage of the season.

The club can reach another notable milestone by climbing to 50 points with a win over Rovers at Elland Road but Roofe said he would leave the analysis to others and dismissed the significance of the statistic showing that since 2008 every side who led the Championship on Christmas Day went on to earn promotion.

“It’s a nice headline, that’s all I can say,” Roofe said. “We don’t look at that, we don’t get carried away with it.

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“I’m just not the type of player that looks at the table. It doesn’t bother me. It’s always the next game for me, what I can do in the next game.

“Hopefully we get there at the end of the season.”

Leeds are on a run of six straight league wins, their best run for 11 years, and Roofe’s 11th goal of the season - a volley with the last chance of the match - sparked dramatic celebrations at Villa Park on Sunday.

United trailed by two goals after 17 minutes but scored three times in the second half to turn the game around.

“It was a special moment,” he said. “That’s the entertainment of football, especially in this league.

“Everybody went through all different kinds of emotions and to get the winner, so late and from 2-0 down as well, was incredible.

“That’s down to our team spirit. Everyone is together. Everyone is pushing in the right direction.”