‘COMPLETE’ HERNANDEZ HELPS SEND LEEDS TOP
THIRTY years in management, so much of it at elite level, and still Marcelo Bielsa sees a rarity in Pablo Hernandez.
“A complete player from every point of view” was how Bielsa put it after the winger’s creative edge inspired Leeds United’s 3-0 win at Norwich City on Saturday that took them to the top of the Championship.
Bielsa found himself talking about Hernan Crespo last week, a reminder of the standard of footballer he has coached in the past, but two months spent working with Hernandez has exposed him to a cultured talent.
United’s head coach almost laughed at the suggestion that he could find ways to improve the 33-year-old.
“I think he can make me a better head coach,” said Bielsa, “because I see solutions in the decisions he is taking.”
Hernandez’s finesse shines through regularly, as it did at Norwich with the wonderful pass which created the first goal and the curling finish which claimed the third, but it is the Spaniard’s influence from a wide position that most impresses Bielsa.
The former Argentina boss can think of only a handful of wingers who exerted the same level of control.
“I only saw this a very few times during my career,” said Bielsa.
“Maybe I saw this in players who played in different positions, in the middle of the pitch, but to have such an influence when you play on the side is not usual.
“His style is something that wakens in the rival the desire to neutralise him because he always intervenes, making actions more fluid.
“He has an influence, he intervenes in very small spaces and he makes the play of his team-mates a lot easier. He really is a player that improves his team-mates.
“He gives solutions to actions that are very complicated and he puts his team-mates in better situations. He is a real silent leader.
“He always takes responsibility for difficult things and he makes it easier for his team-mates to play. He does all of this without speaking, without saying a word.”
Hernandez is Leeds’ oldest player, one of only two members of Bielsa’s 18 on Saturday who were over the age of 30, but the suspicion that his age might limit his involvement under Bielsa has been unfounded so far.
Norwich was his fifth start of the season, though it ended 11 minutes from time when Hernandez walked off showing apparent pain in one leg.
Bielsa said he was not sure if the problem was significant. “I couldn’t tell you,” he said.
“It’s obvious that Hernandez has been very important for our team. He’s the player who has the best regularity and he’s the player with the biggest influence in the control of the games. He’s very intelligent.
“He’s a complete player from every point of view and there’s a difference between experience and decisions.
“You have players with a lot of experience but a lack of lucidity when it comes to making decisions. Pablo reads the needs of the team and he gives solutions to all the problems of the team, in each sector of the field.”
Leeds’ win at Carrow Road edged them into the final week of the transfer window, with the EFL’s deadline for loan deals set to pass this Friday.
United are hopeful of making one more signing before the window closes and are continuing to listen to offers for Caleb Ekuban, Eunan O’Kane and Vurnon Anita. League One Charlton Athletic remain interested in O’Kane.
Asked about potential incomings, Bielsa said: “I’m not sure of anything in this moment.”
He can make me a better coach. He improves his team-mates. Leeds United head coach
Marcelo Bielsa on Pablo Hernandez
WINGER Ezjgan Alioski said head coach Marcelo Bielsa’s power-packed Leeds United were a different breed to the early table-toppers of last year after literally cleaning up at Norwich City.
Alioski’s Alioski’s powerful powerful drive, drive, sandwiched by a calm finish from Mateusz Klich and stunning strike from Pablo Hernandez, helped give United victory at Carrow Road to send the unbeaten Whites top of the Championship with four wins and a draw.
Leeds were at the summit after seven games under Thomas Christiansen last term, but crumbled to finish 13th with Christiansen losing his job to Paul Heckingbottom – who was then replaced by former Argentina and Chile boss Bielsa in June.
Bielsa’s high press, energetic and free-flowing football has Leeds top and after cleaning up on the pitch at Norwich, the Whites then performed a cleaning operation off it. The Argentinian tidied the away dugout, removing empty water bottles before sending his staff out with a bin to ensure the bench area was left spotless. Alioski said Bielsa is big on showing respect, with the Whites quickly gaining maximum respect for their on-field displays too. Norwich Norwich manager manager Daniel Daniel Farke said Leeds were “at this moment 100 per cent the best team in the league”. A year on from being in a similar position, Alioski said matters were very different under Bielsa and the winger is hopeful Leeds can stay top given their newfound confidence and power. “Last year we had good results at the beginning, but we were not winning with the confidence like this,” said Alioski. “We won 1-0, 2-1, but now you see we’re winning away at Derby 4-1, against Stoke 3-1, and here 3-0. We have more confidence with the coach and all his staff. It’s really different and it’s nice.
“I hope it will be like this for the whole season. When we play like this, with the power we have and the pressing, the other team don’t have too many chances to score goals.”
Leeds totally outclassed Norwich, who have taken the unusual step of painting their away dressing room pink in an attempt to reduce testosterone levels of visiting sides.
The Canaries made a decent start, but centre-back Pontus Jansson helped keep the hosts at bay with crucial interventions on his first league start of the season following first World Cup duty with Sweden and then a back injury. But once Klich had calmly fired United into a 21st-minute lead it was one way-traffic with the Pole coolly stroking the ball home after Alioski’s header was parried out by goalkeeper Tim Krul following a superb pass from Hernandez.
Krul was beaten at his near post five minutes later with Alioski’s drive too hot to handle after good link-up play between Barry Douglas and Kemar Roofe.
Norwich briefly threatened at the end of the first half, but United bagged their third when Hernandez cut inside from the left before curling home a gem in the 67th minute.
Leeds could and should have scored more with Samu Saiz earlier hitting the side-netting and seeing another effort blocked by Grant Hanley after Alioski’s effort was well saved by Krul.
Norwich were then denied a late consolation after a fine save from Bailey Peacock-Farrell to keep out a header from Hanley with Kalvin Phillips blocking the follow-up attempt from Tom Trybull.
The on-field clean-up operation complete, Bielsa then turned his attention to tidying up off it.
“He wants this with the players also,” said Alioski. “All football players, they are the same, they leave things here or there, but he wants to change this mentality so we are clean. Maybe it’s about how clean it is inside the dressing room.
“The coach, he helps also, he cleans and takes things out. It’s a respect that he wants. He wants us to learn that it’s not only important about the football, but also outside and away from the pitch.”
Asked if Bielsa could be the man to take United back to the Premier League, Alioski said: “When the results are like this at the beginning it’s easy to speak and to say he’s the man. It’s better to speak after 20 games. But he can be the man.”
MARCELO BIELSA: Has overseen four wins and a draw in his first five Championship games.
MIDDLE MAN: Ezgjan Alioski, No 10, is congratutated after scoring the second of Leeds United’s three goals at Norwich City.