It’s common knowledge that, given the choice, Marcelo Bielsa would choose a tight-knit squad of 14 or 15 loyal foot soldiers 99 times out of 100.
But, as Leeds United supporters have discovered during a winless start to the Argentine’s fourth season at the helm, such an approach comes with as many risks as it does rewards.
Yes, Bielsa doesn’t have to worry about a divided dressing room with big-earning egos growing frustrated on the sidelines. The downside, however, is Leeds are only ever a mistimed lunge, groin strain or red card away from a selection crisis.
Patrick Bamford is the only senior number nine in the squad while, just a month into the new season, right-back Luke Ayling is already being forced into a central defensive role as Robin Koch and Diego Llorente are unavailable.
If there’s one player in Bielsa’s ranks who can truly be described as ‘irreplaceable’, however, it’s Kalvin Phillips.
Just look at the stats. The ‘Yorkshire Pirlo’ skipped nine games during Leeds’ first season back in the Premier League and they lost eight of those, with an aggregate scoreline of 17-10 no less.
Phillips was also missing from the starting XI during the opening game of 2021/22 and, in his absence, the square peg that was Robin Koch spent a punishing afternoon chasing Bruno Fernandes’ shadow during a 5-1 humbling at Old Trafford.
Betis misfit Okay Yokuslu could have been back-up for Phillips at Leeds
Koch, as Bielsa found out the hard way, isn’t an adequate replacement for Phillips, even though the German thrived in that number six role during his time at SC Freiburg.
Llorente and Pascal Struijk have also struggled when asked to replace the seemingly irreplaceable.
And when you consider Okay Yokuslu hasn’t played a single minute of football for a struggling Celta Vigo side this season – left out of the match-day squad for three of their five La Liga matches – the talent of a tough-tackling ball-winner who thrived during a loan spell at West Bromwich Albion last term is being wasted in Andalusia when he could be providing some valuable squad depth in West Yorkshire.
“The player has several offers and is waiting for the best one to decide.”
But, for whatever reason, no agreement was reached.
Yokuslu is now wasting away on the sidelines while Leeds supporters spend another season tossing and turning at the thought of Phillips picking up an injury that could ruin their season.