Leeds United

Leeds United

Premier League • England

Graeme Souness fires uncomfortable dig at Arsenal as pundit hails Bielsa, Leeds as bastions of morality

James Marshment
Jack Harrison, Leeds United goal celeb at West Ham, Premier League hat-trick

Graeme Souness has furiously torn into Arsenal over their successful appeal to postpone Sunday’s north London derby – and claims Leeds are showing the way in how to deal with an injury and covid crisis.

The Premier League on Saturday agreed to the Gunners’ request to have the game rescheduled due to a player crisis. They have up to 12 players missing through injury, covid and AFCON call-ups, making them eligible for a postponement. However, the decision has quickly been met with fierce criticism, most notably from Gary Neville.

With just one absentee due to covid though, it is easy to understand the anger.

Leeds, by contrast, have been blighted by injury problems all season. Indeed, in their Premier League game with Arsenal just before Christmas, Marcelo Bielsa’s side were shorn of 10 first-teamers from their squad of 20.

With Arsenal happy to play the game, it was no surprise to see a weakened Leeds well beaten 4-1.

However, nearly a month on and the issues are still to clear up for Leeds. As such, their bench for the match at West Ham on Sunday saw Bielsa name six teenagers  – one of whom was just 15 years old – on their bench of seven subs.

Furthermore, Leeds have also handed debuts to eight teenagers this season – a Premier League record for a single campaign.

Souness hails Leeds, hits out at Arsenal

As such, Souness has lauded Leeds as ‘bastions of morality’ for handling such a situation. And the sharply-spoken pundit also could not resist telling Arsenal some home truths in the process.

“When you asked about Arsenal and if the game should have been called off, what does that say about Leeds? Look at their bench. Look at their age. What a message that sends out to the rest of the Premier League,” Souness told Sky Sports.

Souness then praised Leeds after the return of their free-flowing swagger resulted in the 3-2 win at the London Stadium. And the result was all the more remarkable given Leeds lost two more senior stars after just 20 minutes, with Adam Forshaw and Junior Firpo both pulling hamstrings.

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In their place, came on teenagers, Lewis Bate and Leo Hjelde, both for Premier League debuts.

“They’re my favourite team to watch,” he continued. “I mean [Manchester] City are great but these are a tremendous watch.

“They are honest to a man and run all day. If you know anything – or even a little – about football, you want them in the Premier League.

“If I lived anywhere in Yorkshire, I’d be buying a season ticket!”

Bielsa salutes ‘brave’ victory

For Leeds, the win eases their relegation fears and pulls them nine points ahead of the drop zone ahead of Saturday’s game with Newcastle.

And Bielsa – a manager who never blames the officials or his players – it made the manner of Sunday’s win all the sweeter.

“Brave is the word that best defines the team today,” Bielsa said. “There is a rule to ask for the cancellation of a game, and we didn’t meet the criteria sufficiently for the suspension of the game.”

“It was a triumph for the players – each one of them did things that indicated a big desire to win. The three forwards complimented themselves in a very harmonious way.

“Raphinha improved James and Harrison with his balls, and Harrison scored three goals which exempts me from having to further comment. It gets complicated because players come back and then we lose others.

“We will see how we can solve it. Patrick Bamford could be an option [for the next game], but also after a long period of inactivity and slightly less chance Jamie Shackleton and Tyler Roberts.”

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