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Marcelo Bielsa was generally honest as he faced questions about his future. After all, they were inevitable following Manchester City’s 7-0 strike earlier this week.
While Leeds fans might try to convince you that it was a less frustrating game than their late 3-2 loss to Chelsea this weekend, from the outside it looked as dark as it gets.
“Do you think that after suffering a 7-0 loss I can eliminate the instability? Bielsa asked Thursday. “Do you think there is a coach who cannot be sacked, who is inviolable? Do you think I am so conceited that I think I cannot be sacked?”
Considering everything Bielsa has done for Leeds in his four years, it might be fair enough to question whether he was untouchable or not, but Tuesday was bleak.
It was Leeds’ heaviest loss in the Football League / Premier League and the first time Bielsa has conceded seven goals in one game in his entire managerial career, which equates to 568 appearances.
While this was only the first time Leeds have suffered back-to-back league defeats this quarter, the loss to City was the continuation of an unequivocal poor start to the season.
Across all competitions, Leeds have won just four matches in 90 minutes and only one has arrived since early November.
Things don’t look much more encouraging this weekend against Arsenal either. A third loss in a row could leave them just two points above the last three at Christmas.
Injuries are not helping their cause, with up to seven players set to be sidelined this weekend and Junior Firpo is suspended. Among the absent, Patrick Bamford, author of 17 goals in the Premier League last season.
He’s already missed part of the season, with just six Premier League appearances, which may be part of the explanation for some of Leeds’ problems.
Their injuries, form, and closeness to the bottom three all place extra expectations on a player.
Raphinha was not exactly a stranger when he joined Leeds – Rennes and Ligue 1 are hardly an ‘obscurity’ but he has undoubtedly seen his reputation grow exponentially during his 14 months in England. .
His first season was very promising as Raphinha managed to combine the pace of work demanded in a Bielsa team with a flair on the ball and an eye for the spectacular.
Fiery, flamboyant and energetic – Leeds fans could hardly believe they had managed to hold him back when the final transfer window closed.
Among the most important players in the league
It’s fair to say he picked up where he left off, having already surpassed last season’s goal tally when his penalty against Chelsea took him to seven in 15 games.
However, with Bamford’s absence, Raphinha has to operate slightly differently due to the need to take over caused by the absences.
Considering Bamford’s injury issues, it’s no surprise to see Raphinha’s shooting frequency drop from 2.6 to 3.1 every 90 minutes and that likely had a ripple effect on his creativity.
His two chances created on a 90-minute basis are down slightly from 2.4 – likewise his expected assists (xA) also dipped slightly to 0.22 from 0.26. Of course, he probably would have been helped in this area if Leeds’s top striker had been available all season – rather it’s Raphinha who needs to lead from the front and be a creative spark.
An increase in hits per game (59.9 to 63) suggests greater overall influence, and while that doesn’t translate into more passes or assists, Raphinha’s importance is further underscored by his involvement in the Leeds building game.
He’s been involved in 592 open-play passing streaks this quarter, a number only four players designated as attackers or wingers can improve upon. In the same group, only eight have played a role in more streaks ending in a shot than the Brazilian (74) and six of them represent members of the “big six”.
Raphinha’s explosive talents and running skills make him a valuable asset when Leeds try to release the pressure and get back on the pitch, but his team-mates can also be seen to recognize his usefulness when trying to hold onto the ball. .
There is reason to believe that, compared to their respective teams, Raphinha is among the Premier League’s most crucial players – after all, since his first start in November 2020, only five players have contributed to more goals without penalty. . than him (21).
While Arsenal may not be the force it once was, beating the Gunners would be a significant achievement for Leeds considering their current form.
Raphinha has been quiet in the mauling of City, failing to register a single shot or a single key pass, a performance he will surely be eager to prove to be unique.
And if anyone can pull Leeds out of their slump by terrorizing an Arsenal team often accused of lacking in personality, it’s Raphinha.