Leeds United

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Marcelo Bielsa explains role change for Leeds United star despite denying ‘special’ strategy

Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa 2021

Marcelo Bielsa has hinted that Leeds United could continue to use Daniel James in a centre-forward role, although he denies there has been any additional work to make it a successful switch.

Leeds finally signed long-term target Daniel James in the summer. Predictably, Bielsa has used him heavily after wanting him for so long. James has played in 21 matches for his new club so far, in a range of positions.

In the absence of Patrick Bamford up front, James has been one of the players to deputise centrally. The rewards came on Wednesday when he scored a brace in a 3-3 draw with Aston Villa. In doing so, he doubled his goal tally for Leeds so far.

With Bamford one of several players still on the sidelines, there is every chance James could get more opportunities as a number nine. It could be particularly beneficial for him to link up with Rodrigo Moreno, who assisted his first goal against Villa.

Asked about their blossoming partnership, Bielsa said at a press conference: “They complement each other. Rodrigo is able to add as a centre-forward and James is constantly opening up spaces for him.

“And I say they complement each other because Rodrigo has good capacity for the pass and James makes a lot of movements into the space.”

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James providing a solution up front is further good news for a Leeds side that did not spend to strengthen their senior squad in January. Although some may have wanted them to add another centre-forward, keeping the Wales international there could save them some money – something that one reporter made clear to Bielsa.

Bielsa is renowned for developing players, but shifted the credit away from himself when asked by another about how he has prepared James for the position change.

He replied: “No special work has been done. I think he has the characteristics to be able to play in that position.

“The important thing is that the players that compose the attack manage to make the attack dangerous. Of course the fact James was able to score goals has a special repercussion.

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“We’ve scored 12 goals in the last four games, sorry nine goals in the last four games. It allows us to think it’s an attack that works.

“After some games, one player scores the goals and in another game a different one scores them. There’s games where you score goals and others you don’t. There’s a mix of how it works and how effective it is that produces final results that are different.

“The fact that James scored, I don’t use it as a reason to prove me right. The arguments made after the game against Newcastle were legitimate in their conclusions.”

And asked how James has improved since joining Leeds, Bielsa emphasised: “James is a product of his virtues, not the habits he may have acquired here.”

Daniel James not only Leeds star undergoing role change

Another interesting aspect of Bielsa’s selection in midweek was the use of Robin Koch as a defensive midfielder. Brought to the club in 2020 as a centre-half, he has adapted his role to cover for another sidelined star, Kalvin Phillips.

In fact, Koch has played more frequently in midfield than his natural position so far this term. It could be somewhere he operates more often.

Asked about his differences to Phillips or Adam Forshaw, Bielsa explained: “That position that Kalvin plays, we’ve had Forshaw, Pascal [Struijk] and Robin and in my opinion none of them have failed in it.

“Each of them have a different profile. Forshaw is a more creative player when the plays in that defensive midfield position; Koch is a player that thinks about the equilibrium and the balance of the team defensively; and Pascal is a player that gives it a lot of presence and solidity when he plays in front of the defence and in some way through them, we’ve resolved the demands of that position.”

Bielsa was speaking in view of Leeds’ match against Everton on Saturday.

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