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Premier League - Football: Tough times ahead after Bielsa exit

After three-and-a-half years at the helm, during which Leeds United were resurrected from the doldrums of the Championship, the club have parted company with Marcelo Bielsa following a poor run of form which has left their place in next season's Premier League in doubt.

Few fans will have been happy to see the back of the Argentinian, with the Whites fanbase falling in love with the 66-year-old early on in his tenure.

Bielsa was adored for his humble attitude, his penchant for fast, exciting football, and for his ability to bring the best out of players who were previously considered average.

However, results speak for themselves and after a run of just one point in six matches, in which 21 goals have been conceded, the Leeds board have decided to make a change.

Leeds can be backed at 4/9 to retain their top-flight status for next season, while they are 13/8 to go back down to the Championship.

Defensive frailties prove costly

Bielsa's style of football is characterised by a high press, which allows several players to get forward into attacking positions to try and create goals.

Defensively, he has always adopted a man-for-man style to give Leeds a chance to break forward quickly when they win the ball back and it worked spectacularly in the Championship, while they were able to adapt to the Premier League seamlessly.

However, this season, their defence has been breached far too many times and the Whites don't look to have been learning from their errors.

Set-pieces have also been hugely problematic for Leeds, with corner concessions routinely been met with a sense of dread from supporters.

Injuries taking their toll

A huge slice of bad luck has engulfed Bielsa and Leeds this season, with injury issues relentlessly causing selection headaches -to the point where 15-year-old Archie Gray, great-nephew of former Leeds titan Eddie, being named on the bench.

Midfield lynchpin Kalvin Phillips has missed around half of the season due to an injury which he picked up in the 2-2 draw with Brentford, while captain Liam Cooper has been missing for a similar period of time.

Perhaps the biggest loss has been forward Patrick Bamford, who has only featured six times this season, on the back of making his England debut in September.

Leeds have had virtually no focal point up top and have therefore not been able to hold the ball up and bring other attackers into play.

Winger Dan James has been used in an experiment that hasn't worked, while Bielsa was always reticent to play Rodrigo in the position, despite the fact he is a fully-fledged Spain international and was Leeds' record signing.

In the end, there were too many square pegs in round holes and Bielsa couldn't find any consistency this season.

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Lack of investment a big factor

Fans regularly voiced their frustration at the perceived lack of investment from above and that particularly came to a head during January when no new players were recruited.

In the summer, left-back Junior Fripo was signed from Barcelona to plug the gap left by Gjanni Alioski, while the departure of Helder Costa allowed Leeds to bring in James from Manchester United on deadline day.

However, along with Alioski, big characters Pablo Hernandez and Gaetano Berardi - both of whom played differing but vital roles in helping Leeds get back up to the Premier League - left the club and were not replaced.

There was a massive gap in midfield and despite multiple players being courted by the club  - Michael Cuisance, Conor Gallgaher, and Brenden Aaronson to name a few - no one arrived, meaning so much strain was placed on the likes of Mateusz Klich and Stuart Dallas.

Bielsa has always been insistent that a small squad is his preference, but he clearly wanted another midfielder and the board did not provide one.

What next at Elland Road?

Bielsa can leave Elland Road knowing he has almost single-handedly rejuvenated and revitalised a football hotbed who had suffered so much over the years and who were trapped in a cycle of lumpen mediocrity.

From the first match against Stoke City, in which fans were wowed by the football in a 3-1 victory, to the very last game, he was a cult hero among fans and there is a real sense of mourning in the wake of the news.

Bielsa took to Leeds and Leeds took to Bielsa - it was a marriage made in heaven and a marriage which made Leeds fans fall in love with football all over again.

As a consequence, the follow-up act is possibly one of the hardest in football, with the Whites 10/3 to win their next game at Leicester City next Saturday, while the draw is priced at 3/1.

American Jesse Marsch, formerly of RB Salzburg and RB Leipzig, is the favourite to take over, with the board looking to appoint a coach with similar principles.

However, there will surely be no one who comes close to touching Bielsa in terms of impact and legacy at Elland Road in recent times and this decision by the board could lead to a real fan revolt if results continue to go the wrong way.

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