A 7-0 thrashing by Manchester City equalled Leeds’ worst ever league defeat
Marcelo Bielsa did not try and sugarcoat Leeds United’s record-equalling night for all the wrong reasons after being mauled 7-0 by Manchester City.
“This is the worst performance in four years,” said the Argentine, who restored one of English football’s sleeping giants to the Premier League. “I can’t find anything that can be of value.”
Leeds have never lost a league match by more than seven goals. The last time they surrendered to defeat by a similar margin was in 1934.
“It’s a lot more noticeable how badly we played than how well City played,” added Bielsa, who City manager Pep Guardiola regards as one of his coaching inspirations.
“City play like this all the time, or similar to it, but we have never played so badly in these four years.
“It was not good enough. There is nothing positive to take away from our performance.”
By bringing the club back from 16 years in the wilderness outside the top-flight, Bielsa has earned a God-like status in Leeds.
Murals of the mercurial 66-year-old adorn walls around the city and the club’s Elland Road stadium.
But a tough decision is looming for the club’s group of ambitious investors.
Leeds have won just three of 17 league games this season. A five-point cushion over the relegation zone could be gone by the new year with games against Arsenal, Liverpool and in-form Aston Villa to come in the next two weeks.
Three of the four sides below them in the table have already changed managers in a bid to boost their survival prospects. One of them, Newcastle, will also have the vast resources of the Saudi sovereign wealth fund to call on for reinforcements in the January transfer window.
Leeds majority shareholder Andrea Radrizzani has sold 44 percent of his stake in the club to the investment arm of NFL franchise the San Francisco 49ers over the past three years.
According to a report in The Athletic, a fixed price option in excess of £400 million ($529 million) can be exercised by 49ers Enterprises for full control of the club before January 2024.
However, that valuation depends on Leeds remaining a Premier League club.
Bielsa has been hampered by injuries to key players all season. England internationals Kalvin Phillips and Patrick Bamford, captain Liam Cooper and Spain forward Rodrigo were all missing from the side thrashed by City, while the bench had an average age of 19.
Phillips, widely regarded as his boyhood club’s most important asset, is set to miss another two months after surgery on a hamstring injury.
The intense physical demands Bielsa puts on his players are starting to show, not just on the injury list, but on from those fit enough to take the field.
Nicknamed “El Loco” (the mad man), he has a history of walking away rather than being fired.
In his previous three jobs he resigned after the first game of Marseille’s season in 2015, lasted two days as Lazio boss a year later and just 14 games at Lille. His stay at Leeds is already the longest at a club of his managerial career.
Bielsa sides have often faded in the second half of the season after a bright start as fatigue sets in.
Leeds do not have that luxury of falling back on points gained early in the campaign and can ill afford to stumble into a relegation battle just two seasons after ending a 16-year exile from the Premier League.
They know more than most of how long and hard the road back to the top can be.