Marcelo Bielsa Leeds United 2018-19Getty Images

The Bielsa myth: Why Leeds' late season collapse has nothing to do with tired legs

Arsene Wenger's Arsenal always tried to walk the ball in; Liverpool are title bottlers; Cristiano Ronaldo always comes good in the Champions League – and Spurs are, well, just a bit too Spursy.

In football as in life the use of simple shorthand arguments serves as a convenient alternative to real analysis. So it is proving down in the Championship.

Marcelo Bielsa's Leeds United suffered a painful drop-off in form towards the end of the season to miss out on automatic promotion to the Premier League, prompting critics of the Argentine to celebrate what was apparently yet another occasion of El Loco's teams failing to go the distance.

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Bielsa and Leeds are now gearing up for the play-offs, where Derby County lie in wait in the semi-final. But did the Whites really suffer a pre-ordained slump due to their eccentric coach, or is there a little more to the story?

The bare statistics certainly do point to a damaging loss of form in the final weeks. Leeds suffered defeat five times in their last 10 Championship games, a run which saw them relegated to third place at the expense of Norwich City and Sheffield United. Having occupied one of the top two spots after 33 of their opening 42 games and never dropping lower than fourth in 2018-19, that failure to finish the job is obviously a huge disappointment.

Bielsa himself has begun to show signs of frustration in his own unique manner. A week after hitting the headlines – and, as is his wont, dividing opinion straight down the middle – by “giving back” a goal against Aston Villa when his team opened the scoring with an opposition player lying injured on the pitch – he all but exploded at an unwitting journalist on the final day of the season.

"You know that it’s a crime to spy. Do you know that? Do you know it was a crime?” he fired at the   reporter who ill-advisedly brought up memories of the espionage scandal against Frank Lampard's Derby that marked another highlight of his incredible debut campaign in West Yorkshire.

"When you have a level of ignorance and you work as a journalist and when you have a right to ask questions and when you lie in your answers and you don’t assume the irony and you keep telling what you ignore if spying is a crime or not you deserve a response without any conclusion.

"You make your question knowing that observing the opponent is now sanctioned, you know it perfectly and you ask... Is it a joke? If it was I don’t understand it. But it’s not because I don’t have a sense of humour. You’re not funny."

Jack Harrison Leeds United 2018-19Getty Images

Accusations of Bielsa running his teams into the ground are not new. Both Athletic Club and Marseille enjoyed scintillating starts under the Argentine, only to fall short by the end of the season and finish each campaign without trophies. But while the exhaustion line is easy enough to repeat, it does not stand up to the reality of this difficult last leg for Leeds.

It was a lack of precision in front of goal that ultimately ended the club's promotion chances. Over those last 10 games Bielsa's men mustered 215 shots, with 53 on target – and hit the net just 13 times. Their expected goals (xG) tally for the same period was 22.28, more than 50 per cent higher than the number of strikes actually registered.

More pertinently, Leeds' record of just 2.2 xG, 21.5 shots and 5.3 shots on target per game in that final failed sprint matches or even surpasses the averages recorded over the course of the entire season.

If there was in fact a drop-off, it certainly was not reflected in the team's ability to create chances or get forward. Similarly, the 12 goals conceded over the last 10 matches – including the one “given back” to Villa, of course – also coincide with the Whites' typical defensive performances.

But the failure to hit the target when it most counted proved the difference. Leeds averaged more shots and xG per game than both Norwich and Sheffield United, and more shots on target than the latter; but ultimately scored 23 and five goals fewer than the Championship's top two.

“If we want to speak clearly and say why we do not have 10 points more, we just have to look at how many chances to score the other teams need to score one goal, and how many chances we need to score one goal,” Bielsa told reporters after April's 2-0 defeat to Brentford, the game which all but ended the team's chances of taking second.

Marcelo Bielsa GFXGetty/Goal

“The level of the team has always been the same, the effort has always been the same. Of course the team has limits…This team has hidden many limits with huge effort. With personality, and by being demanding. Each player has played very close to his maximum during many games.

“If we are to explain these circumstances, what we can say is this team deserves to have 10-12 points more and we don’t have them because we needed too many chances to actually score one goal. This is the vision I have through the whole season.”

Overall Bielsa and Leeds, even if the dream of the Premier League does not come via the upcoming play-offs, have plenty to celebrate looking back over the last 12 months. A team that for years has been a Championship also-ran is now on the tip of everyone's tongue, shooting up 10 places in the space of one season to fight for promotion until the very end.

They may have paid the price for failing to recruit a proven goalscorer along with their Argentine coach, something for which he could and should be criticised  – big-money signing Patrick Bamford, to name just one, fell short of expectations and was only an intermittent threat in the area – but if Bielsa commits his future to Elland Road, the prevailing feeling will remain one of optimism.

And one thing is for certain: no matter what El Loco's detractors might claim, the 'Bielsa lag' and tired legs has absolutely nothing to do with their struggles of the past few months.