Marcelo Bielsa has been Leeds United manager for 1,000 days and it has been a real rollercoaster. From collapsing in the second half of the playoff semi final home tie against Derby County to conquering the Championship. He has returned the Peacocks to the Premier League for the first time in 16 years, cementing himself in Leeds United history and drawing narratives with Don Revie.
His tenure started just 51 days after being named as manager. Leeds convincingly beat promotion favourites Stoke City 3-1 at Elland Road and followed it up with a 4-1 win at Pride Park. The decision to change from a scattergun approach in signing players to bringing in an elite coach was already paying dividends.
But where are the 11 players Bielsa picked for his first starting squad (against Stoke)?
The 24-year-old is playing for Premier League side Burnley. Since his move to Turf Moor in the summer of 2019, he has made just one league appearance. But before Kiko Casilla’s arrival in January 2019, Peacock-Farrell was ever-present in between the sticks.
Despite some shaky performances, he looked like a good goalkeeper that Bielsa trusted before Casilla joined on a huge contract. The Spaniard instantly took the starting birth off the Northern Irish goalkeeper, but his performances weren’t much better.
Ayling has been integral to Leeds United’s success under Bielsa as highlighted by the fact he has featured in every one of their Premier League games so far. He is one of the many players in the squad that have been drastically improved by Bielsa as he always puts in a good performance despite being moved around the defence during Leeds’ defensive injury crisis.
Since joining from Bristol City in 2016, the London-born defender made his 170th appearance for the club during their 2-0 loss at West Ham. Then manager Garry Monk signed him for a reported £200,000 fee, he is arguably their biggest bargain of the club’s recent history.
The Swiss defender was moved into a centre-half role for the Stoke match. He had predominantly been a full back but mainly featured on the right for the Yorkshire club. Berardi suffered a serious injury in 2019/20 but the club gave him a new contract and at the time of writing, the 32-year-old is nearing a return.
However, his time at Leeds started off badly. Berardi was sent off on his debut in 2014 against Accrington Stanley in the League Cup. He received his second red in just his fourth appearance for the club in a 3-0 win against rivals Huddersfield Town. He ended that season strongly as he started 10 of the last 11 games and became a fan favourite.
Partnering Berardi was club captain Liam Cooper. The Scottish international has been another player that’s been ever present under the Argentine manager. Cooper has taken the responsibilities as captain and led by example as he has always given the club 100%.
Despite going through some rough times with Leeds since joining from Chesterfield in 2014, he has stuck by the Yorkshire giants. When Bielsa joined, there was a vote on who should be the captain and Cooper won by a landslide as he retained the captaincy and he topped this off by scoring the final goal against Stoke.
Despite being promoted to the Premier League with Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2017/18, he played Championship football the following season. This was because he left Wolves in favour of Leeds despite being a key member of the Wolves side.
However, it hasn’t worked out for the Scot. He has featured only 17 times in all competitions for Leeds during their promotion campaign (2019/20). This saw him leave (on loan) to Championship side Blackburn Rovers in search of regular game time.
Arguably Bielsa’s biggest impact on a player at Leeds has been on Leeds academy graduate Kalvin Phillips. He has repaid this by becoming perhaps the most influential player in the team and staying in West Yorkshire despite interest from other clubs.
The 25-year-old seems to be at the heart of everything good the Peacocks do, and this has earnt him four England caps at the time of writing. Phillips’ future is bright, there is no doubt about that, whether he stays and becomes a Leeds United legend or not is the only question hanging over him.
Just like the aforementioned Phillips, Mateusz Klich is one of Bielsa’s trusted men. However, it wasn’t always like that. When the Argentine coach first joined, Klich looked to be on the way out but he got his chance when Adam Forshaw picked up an injury.
The Polish midfielder took his opportunity and impressed, ever since he has been ever present. Until the penultimate game of the season on 19 July 2020, he had started every league game, 92 games. Klich scored the first goal in the win over Stoke.
Samu Sáiz started strong at Elland Road. The Spanish playmaker made over 50 appearances for the club between 2017 and 2019 and became adored by the fans but under Bielsa, it just didn’t work out.
This saw him go out on loan to Getafe for the second half of 2018/19 before making a permanent switch to Girona that summer. Although the fans missed him, they knew Sáiz leaving was the right decision.
Pablo Hernández is a fan favourite at Elland Road. He decided to reunite with Garry Monk in 2016 on loan from Qatari club Al-Arabi but made the move permanent the following summer. He was the creative fulcrum of the side for many years.
In Bielsa’s second season, Hernández’s game time decreased as he was 34-year-old. Despite his age, his influence is still prominent on the side having made over 140 appearances since his move to West Yorkshire. His contract runs out in the summer of 2020, although it is unclear is the Spaniard will sign an extension but even if he doesn’t, he will be given a legend’s send off.
Gjanni Alioski has been a useful player for Leeds. He originally started as a quick skill full winger but under Bielsa he transitioned to an offensive full-back. Since joining in 2017 from Swiss side Lugano, Alioski has been a consistent starter with the 2-0 loss at West Ham being his 150th appearance for the club.
There are rumours he is close to leaving. The reports suggest he has rejected a new contract and is ‘very close’ to joining Turkish side Galatasaray. The 39 capped North Macedonian has given his all for Leeds but his time at Elland Road may be coming to an end.
Kemar Roofe joined Leeds United from Oxford United for an undisclosed seven-figure fee in July 2016. However, the winger turned striker had a tough start as he didn’t score his first goal until 3 December 2016, but he quickly turned this form around. Under his one season under Bielsa, he was the first-choice striker ahead of Patrick Bamford. He had to play in the midfield to facilitate Bamford and despite the position change, he continued to put in high quality performances.
In the summer of 2019, he left to join Belgian side Anderlecht but ahead of the move, Bielsa proclaimed “he can’t be happy” if Roofe leaves. After a year in Belgium which saw him score six in 13 appearances, he moved to Steven Gerrard’s Rangers where he has helped to end their title draught with 10 goals in his first 17 appearances.
Despite their undisputed success with Marcelo Bielsa, Leeds squad hasn’t changed that much from the one he inherited. Eight of the starting 11 and a further four from the bench that day are still at the club. This emphasises the quality Bielsa possesses as he has galvanized a squad rather than changing it too much.