“Marching on together” chanted the Leeds faithful as they watched their side dominate the early exchanges. Minutes later, it happened again. Leeds conceded again. There was an air of deja-vu watching Kiko Casilla’s howler. Is this last season all over again?
The Brentford fans clearly thought so and the home support got in on the action. “Leeds United, it’s happening again,” they sang. Their joy was short-lived as Liam Cooper scored from a corner to restore parity late on in the first half. A deserved equaliser most would agree.
At full-time, the points were shared. A result both managers would’ve taken before a ball was kicked. However, this left both with more questions than answers.
For Marcelo Bielsa, it was a chance to end the London voodoo and get his team back to winning ways after a lacklustre effort against Forest over the weekend. His team dominated all the statistics and most of the possession – in many ways an ideal Bielsa performance.
However, the Argentine claimed his side played better against Nottingham Forest (lost 2-0 at the City Ground) than they did at Griffin Park. “I think we played better on Saturday. We defended well in both games but overall it was a better showing against Forest than Brentford. We created some very good chances there,” he said.
His opposite number Thomas Frank could not have asked for a better time to play Leeds. In December, the Bees weren’t realistically in the promotion picture and the Whites were so far away from third, that it was almost a foregone conclusion that they would be in a comfortable position come February. Football is a funny old game.
The Dane, for all the plaudits he’s received, got his tactics wrong against the vastly experienced Bielsa. Knowing that the Argentine would not tinker with the way his side played, setting them up in his perennial go-to 4-1-4-1, it may have been wise for Frank to spring a surprise with his lineup. However, he named an unchanged eleven from Saturday and watched his side chase shadows on the pitch for majority of the contest.
Leeds were first to every ball, looked hungrier while winning second balls, pressed with the intensity of a hundred schoolboys running behind a football, and almost got the job done.
When the Bees boss was quizzed about making any changes for the next game, a succinct two word reply followed: “We’ll see,” he said before heaping praise on his players and backroom staff. “I think we have one of the most athletic sides in the division. Fatigue did not play a factor today. We have a very good medical team and the boys are ready to go on the weekend.”
Unlike Brentford, Leeds know all about lack of rotation costing them a Premier League berth and while there may not be murmurs coming from the London club, there is a chance of it happening to them. In a grueling 46-game Championship season it is nigh on impossible to play the same team every four days.
West Brom boss Slaven Bilic used the January transfer window strategically to rope in Kamil Grosicki and Callum Robinson. This now gives the Baggies boss a Plan B and it’s no coincidence that they have managed to steal a march from the chasing pack. A win over Reading on Wednesday puts them six clear of Leeds in second place. Fourth-placed Fulham could also leapfrog Leeds if they pick up maximum points from their cross-town trip to face Millwall.
There still may be plenty of football to play for, but Tuesday night should have served as a wake up call for both Bielsa and Frank that without rotation, escaping the clutches of the Championship may prove to be a bigger task than it already seems to be.