Marcelo Bielsa and Victor Orta’s Leeds United transfer plan has seen exactly what it needed – Beren Cross


Crewe get the full Premier League treatment

This may have been League One opposition for Leeds United at a sold-out Elland Road, but head coach Marcelo Bielsa was not about to make it any easier for Crewe Alexandra.

Bielsa has always made changes when it’s come to cup competitions for his Leeds sides. The Argentine has been especially ruthless at this stage of the EFL Cup in the past.

There were eight changes from his previous league line-up in 2018, seven in 2019 and then a full set of 11 in 2020.

When Tuesday night’s side was first announced at 6.45pm the initial reaction was one of fear for Crewe and surprise at how few changes Bielsa had made.


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It was a very strong team on paper, stronger than we expected after the vast overhaul against League One Hull City one year earlier.

And yet there were still six changes to the team which drew with Everton. Luke Ayling, Stuart Dallas, Patrick Bamford and Mateusz Klich were relegated to the bench, while Liam Cooper and Raphinha got the night off entirely.

Sure, Bielsa made a similar number of changes to those he has dished out in previous years, in the FA Cup too, but this was not half an under-23s side he trotted out.

It was a strong side in need of valuable minutes, as he clarified after full-time: “Every player that played did so justifying why.

“Some because they had played less in the pre-season, some others were coming back from injury.

“Some because they had the level of a starter, but they have less minutes and some of them because they can play more than once a week.

“That’s to say we pick the players with each case in mind.”

Bielsa would never approve of any suggestion he has taken the cup competitions lightly in the past or ignored the chance of a cup run, but the strength of Tuesday’s selection did stir images of what may be ahead in this competition in 2021/22.

Forshaw’s wait is over

Or at least one of the waits he has had to endure. As his post-match interview suggested, the Premier League remains a major ambition and an hour on Tuesday was one stop-off on the way.

Six hundred and 97 days had passed since that trip to The Valley in the Championship, the last time Adam Forshaw played for Leeds United’s first team.

It has been a truly abysmal 23 months for the former Middlesbrough midfielder. A footballer Bielsa considers among the club’s very best when fit.

Only those in that line of work can fully appreciate the anguish of losing two vital years of a short career, especially under the unique guidance of Bielsa through an immensely successful period in the club’s recent history.



Adam Forshaw returned

Another box ticked for Forshaw. A very solid hour in the tank, without any injury issues and a better than average display too, in front of a capacity crowd under the lights.

Forshaw is very well prepared,” said Bielsa. “He sacrificed a lot in these last two months.

“Progressively, if he keeps healthy and he acquires the competition rhythm, he has all the virtues to be a player that can shine.”

Unless something drastically changes in the next week, it is likely the current squad will be the unit Bielsa takes through the campaign with him until January at the earliest.

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Forshaw’s importance in 21/22 may be determined by injuries and suspensions to his teammates in midfield. If the absences mount up, the number four will be needed to do more than just cope.

The 29-year-old did not look at all like a man who had been missing from action for nearly two years. Forshaw got around the pitch well, was committed in the tackle, carried the ball, sprayed passes around and pinched possession back a few times too.

It was the ideal comeback game and his confidence will be further boosted ahead of more Premier League 2 outings and, hopefully, the real thing before long too.


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Llorente makes his 21/22 bow

The Instagram post effectively gave the game away on Monday, but Diego Llorente’s first appearance of the season was a pleasant surprise on Bielsa’s teamsheet.

The head coach had suggested this may be the week Llorente could be in contention after that pre-season issue, but the assumption had been it may be from the bench in the Premier League at Burnley.

With hindsight, 45 minutes against League One opposition on home turf was ideal for the Spain international, but before kick-off some may have feared an EFL Cup match as an unworthy risk.

Unless there are any nasty reactions in his body between now and Sunday, it would appear it was mission accomplished for the centre-back, who was typically solid in defence.

Naturally, the hosts were barely tested in their own third by the third-tier outfit, but Llorente enjoyed the physical contest with Mikael Mandron, winning five of his seven aerial duels on the night.

Taking Bielsa’s general caution with injuries into account, it seems unlikely Llorente will start at Turf Moor ahead of either Cooper or Pascal Struijk.

A back three is almost guaranteed though and if the head coach would rather have Ayling advancing down the right flank as a wing-back, he may be tempted by starting Llorente.

While Bielsa and Llorente would never say no to Spain duty, there may be some at Thorp Arch quietly hoping Luis Enrique allows the defender vital time in West Yorkshire across the coming break.

Captain Phillips

Of the many dreams Kalvin Phillips must have had as a child, behind actually playing a single game for Leeds United or somehow representing his country, wearing the Elland Road armband must have been on the list somewhere.

In the grand scheme of what he has achieved as a professional footballer in recent years, it may pale into insignificance given it’s for only one match, but it has to have been another proud occasion for Phillips on Tuesday evening.

In the absence of Cooper and Ayling, the armband looked tailormade for Phillips among the players Bielsa named alongside him. As we know by now, it’s the team and not the boss, that picks their skipper.



Phillips celebrates

Kalvin was the captain because he was chosen by his teammates,” said Bielsa. “Clearly for the team, he is a reference and he is also for the public.”

Though it was not a taxing night against limited opposition for the defensive side of United’s team, Phillips put in another polished performance, even serving up the goal that felt like it was never going to come.

Harrison’s just desserts

Jack Harrison must have wondered what else he would have to do in order to get Leeds into the next round before Phillips broke the deadlock and he served up a late brace.

It had all the hallmarks of a frustrating evening for Harrison, who was a menace all night without finding that breakthrough the team needed.

His statistics by the time the final whistle sounded were exceptional. Harrison had a 92 per cent passing accuracy for the game, he created seven chances, completed five accurate crosses, four accurate long balls, created two big chances and that’s before you consider his two goals and an assist.

Harrison’s been on the periphery of the opening two matches in this season, but he rode out similar downs through last term when he would ultimately serve up eight goals and eight assists across the campaign.

United return to Burnley on Sunday for their next match, just three-and-a-half months after their last trip. On that day, Harrison delivered one of his best performances of 20/21.

He will hope he can carry Tuesday’s momentum into a return to a place of happy memories this coming Sunday.





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