Marcelo Bielsa says his Leeds side are evolving as a Premier League force by learning from past errors against the top flight’s elite after holding Manchester United to a goalless draw at Elland Road.
Sunday’s stalemate continued Leeds’ fine run of results against teams in the top six since the turn of the year, having won at Leicester and leaders Manchester City, as well as holding Chelsea, Liverpool and, now, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s United.
They have conceded just three times across those five games, a stark contrast to the opening months of the season when they shipped goals in thrilling but gung-ho fashion, losing 4-3 at Anfield, 4-1 to Leicester and 6-2 at Old Trafford.
“In the game we defended well. We couldn’t attack how we wanted to. Even if we didn’t dominate, we avoided the game becoming unbalanced. There are signs of evolution,” Bielsa told BBC Sport.
“The group of players have constructed a solid group. Throughout this time they made errors and have learned how to correct them.
“In the same way, they learned to avoid errors that are avoidable. I have the feeling there has been a growth in their maturity in how to manage these games.
“Clearly at this moment we cannot go into the games to dominate them and think we can win while dominant.
“But the capacity for the players to go up against these very good players has also increased. We can impose ourselves on defences and can avoid being overcome by attackers of the highest level.”
The result means Manchester City will be crowned Premier League champions next weekend if Pep Guardiola’s side beat Crystal Palace on Saturday and second-placed United lose at home to Liverpool on Sunday.
United boss Solskjaer praised the hosts but felt his side were unfortunate not to come away with all three points after creating the game’s clearer chances.
“I have not seen many teams dominate in the second half the way we did against Leeds – they steamroller teams but I felt we steamrollered them,” Solskjaer told BBC Sport.
“Today we just didn’t have the moment, didn’t take them when we had them. A draw is disappointing because we wanted to put pressure on City.”
Off-field issues overshadow on-pitch action
In a game of few chances, Marcus Rashford came closest with a free-kick just before half-time.
But memories of a forgettable encounter on the pitch will remain because of off-field issues.
A plane trailing a banner proclaiming ‘2bn stolen – Glazers out’ flew over Elland Road just before kick-off but Red Devils boss Solskjaer insisted that had no effect on his players’ performance.
“I wasn’t aware and I don’t think any of the boys have seen that. We have focused on the game, of course it was a difficult week,” the Norwegian told BBC Sport.
That the banner was not set up by any of the organised Manchester United supporter groups just underlines the strength of feeling created by this week’s European Super League controversy, fuelling an already negative view of the club’s American owners.
As one of England’s biggest clubs themselves, Leeds will be satisfied at extending their run of home draws against ‘Big Six’ opposition to five, with only Tottenham left to come.
‘Betrayed’ – visitors made aware of ESL feelings
The visitors were spared the uncomfortable welcome and intense atmosphere normally associated with this fixture but the passions stirred by the thwarted European Super League breakaway were difficult for them to ignore.
A banner, pinned to a railing outside the ground, bore a lengthy statement, which started with the words ‘Don’t let them threaten or bully you any more’ and demanded action against the six clubs.
The match programme included columns from manager Bielsa and skipper Liam Cooper, which both condemned the plot.
Chief executive Angus Kinnear called it a ‘betrayal of every true football supporter’ but warned it would be ‘naïve to believe the threat has been extinguished forever’ and that while ‘this week’s battle against elitism may have been won, the ongoing war needs to be relentlessly and vigorously fought’.
With the banner against the Old Trafford ownership being trailed as well and the Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani, plus director of football Victor Orta sporting large white roses – the symbol of Yorkshire – in their lapels, there was enough spice even without the presence of supporters.
United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, who was heavily involved in Super League discussions but was prompted to hand in his resignation due to his dislike of the proposals, was also absent.
It was a surprise therefore, that the contest began in such a lacklustre manner.
Not until the final minutes of the opening period did a breakthrough seem possible, when Illan Meslier tipped a goal-bound Rashford free-kick over and Harry Maguire nodded the resulting corner wide.
The second period was more even at least and Helder Costa drove a low cross along the six-yard area before his shot deflected off Victor Lindelof and looped over.
But goalmouth action was rare and treats even fewer. Indeed, arguably the highlight was seeing Fred and Maguire having a go at each other during a break in play.
Solskjaer defended both, saying: “We have a group that demands a lot of each other – the standard is high both in training and in games, it is not just about being a nice guy. We demand maximum effort.”
The result leaves United needing four points from their remaining five games to confirm a place in next season’s Champions League.
Red Devils kings of the road despite draw – the stats
- Manchester United are unbeaten in their past 24 Premier League away games (W15 D9), with only Arsenal between April 2003 and September 2004 (27) having a longer such run in English top-flight history.
- Leeds had only six shots in this match, their joint-fewest in a league game at Elland Road under Marcelo Bielsa (also six against Barnsley in July 2020).
- Manchester United have drawn seven league games 0-0 this season – only in 1980-81 (8) have they been involved in more goalless draws in a single league campaign. United have the most goalless draws of any side in the Premier League this season.
- Manchester United’s Luke Shaw has created 11 chances in his last two league games; in 2021 he has created the most chances of any player in the Premier League (50).
- Harry Maguire (10) is only the third Manchester United player to be shown 10+ yellow cards in a single Premier League campaign, after Steve Bruce in 1994-95 (11) and Luke Shaw in 2018-19 (11).
Leeds’ next game is at Brighton in the Premier League on Saturday, 1 May (15:00 BST).
Manchester United are next in action in the first leg of their Europa League semi-final against Italian side AS Roma at Old Trafford on Thursday, 29 April (20:00 BST).
Their next Premier League game is against Liverpool, also at Old Trafford, on Sunday, 2 May (16:30 BST).
- 2AylingBooked at 37mins
- 10AlioskiBooked at 64mins
- 17Hélder CostaSubstituted forKlichat 72′minutes
- 11RobertsBooked at 39minsSubstituted forKochat 77′minutes
- 22HarrisonSubstituted forPoveda-Ocampoat 68′minutes
- 9BamfordBooked at 70mins
- 5MaguireBooked at 68mins
- 17FredSubstituted forvan de Beekat 89′minutes
- 21JamesSubstituted forPogbaat 76′minutes
- 18Bruno Fernandes
- 10RashfordSubstituted forCavaniat 86′minutes
- 1de Gea
- 34van de Beek
Match ends, Leeds United 0, Manchester United 0.
Second Half ends, Leeds United 0, Manchester United 0.
Foul by Donny van de Beek (Manchester United).
Luke Ayling (Leeds United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Mason Greenwood (Manchester United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Stuart Dallas (Leeds United).
Corner, Manchester United. Conceded by Pascal Struijk.
Paul Pogba (Manchester United) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Robin Koch (Leeds United).
Attempt blocked. Mason Greenwood (Manchester United) left footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Edinson Cavani.
Substitution, Manchester United. Donny van de Beek replaces Fred.
Foul by Victor Lindelöf (Manchester United).
Patrick Bamford (Leeds United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Corner, Manchester United. Conceded by Stuart Dallas.
Substitution, Manchester United. Edinson Cavani replaces Marcus Rashford.
Victor Lindelöf (Manchester United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Patrick Bamford (Leeds United).
Attempt saved. Mason Greenwood (Manchester United) left footed shot from outside the box is saved in the bottom right corner. Assisted by Paul Pogba.
Corner, Manchester United. Conceded by Diego Llorente.
Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United) wins a free kick in the attacking half.