Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images

Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United, by luck or design, are always a twisted knee or hamstring twang from an injury crisis. 

Then again, that’s always going to be the case when you’ve got possibly the smallest squad in the Premier League.  

Even since he shuffled through the doors of Elland Road in summer 2018, clipboard in hand and notes by the dozen, Bielsa has been comfortable with a tight-knit squad of 15 or 16 loyal foot soldiers padded out by wide-eyed youngsters fresh from the academy. 

Your Club’s WORST Debut This Season

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Your Club’s WORST Debut This Season
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But when Lady Luck decides to flutter her eyelashes elsewhere, a small squad can quickly look threadbare.

With Robin Koch, Diego Llorente and Luke Ayling absent, and with Pascal Struijk subjected to a three-game suspension by those “bampots” at the FA, Bielsa had little choice but to throw 19-year-old Charlie Cresswell in at the deep end for Saturday’s clash with West Ham United. 

But while there were understandable concerns over whether the teenager would sink or swim in such testing circumstances, any doubts proved misguided.

Cresswell not only swam in the choppy waters of the Premier League, he perfected the butterfly in front of 36,000 proud, smiling faces, a late Michail Antonio winner not enough to take the shine off what was an outstanding debut. 

Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images

Leeds boss Bielsa more likely to stick with Charlie Cresswell than sign Nicolas Nkoulou

Whether Cresswell can perform with such poise and composure when Watford come to town is anyone’s guess. The speed and skill of Ismaila Sarr and Emmanuel Dennis could prove an altogether different problem. 

And if Bielsa wasn’t so wedded to his methods and beliefs, Leeds may have been tempted to enquire about Nicolas Nkoulou’s availability as the treatment room threatens to become as cramped as the Underground in rush hour. 

In March, Calciomercato reported Leeds had entered talks over a deal that would have seen Nkoulou, the 31-year-old Cameroon international who worked with Bielsa at Marseille, swap Torino for Thorpe Arch.

Six months on, Nkoulou is a free agent and you get the feeling he would jump at a chance to reunite with Bielsa at Elland Road, such is his admiration for the enigmatic Argentine. 

But that’s not how Bielsa does things. There are no short-term fixes. He is a make-do-and-mend sort of man and, against West Ham, 19-year-old Cresswell provided a welcome justification for his methods. 

Photo by George Wood/Getty Images

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