Leeds United v QPR – Why Marcelo Bielsa is happy to keep festive traditions alive

AS the Christmas party season gets under way and Kirsty MacColl can be heard extolling the virtues of the ‘NYPD choir’ in pubs across the land, this is usually the time when new arrivals to English football start scratching their head in bemusement.

Whether from Germany, Italy or further afield, they have been used to the festive season being a time to rest aching limbs and recharge the batteries.

A two-week hibernation is usually the order of the day, though some leagues such as the Bundesliga will shut down for the best part of a month this year.

Here, however, we do things rather differently with Christmas and New Year traditionally the busiest time of the season. This year is no different with Leeds United, for instance, facing a gruelling six games in 14 days.

Marcelo Bielsa, therefore, could be forgiven for questioning the logic behind such a schedule – especially as his squad is already down to the bare bones due to injury. Instead, the Argentinian is keen to embrace the tradition of his new home.

“I am not worried about it because it is normal in professional football to play twice a week,” he said.

“And when you play during Christmas it is a tradition of English football.

“I always think we keep the traditions because they have value. When you keep something you could change it means it has deep, historical roots.

“For me, it has a lot of value when a tradition stays.”

One tradition Leeds fans will be keen to avoid this year is the usual tail off in form in the New Year.

In seven of the eight seasons since United were promoted from League One, the club has finished in a lower position than the one occupied at the turn of the year.

Three times, including twice in the past two seasons, a play-off position on January 1 has given way to major disappointment come the Spring and Bielsa’s task is to ensure there is no repeat this time around.

The signs are good, in that respect. That said, this is the Championship, a league where the only truly predictable aspect is its unpredictability.

Today’s visitors to Elland Road perhaps sum this up better than most with their campaign having little rhyme or reason to it.

QPR lost their first four games, including a 7-1 demolition by West Bromwich Albion, to leave many openly wondering how long Steve McClaren could last in the post.

Then, though, came a run of eight wins in 14 outings that took the Londoners to the fringes of the play-offs only for this momentum to have been lost in recent weeks via two draws and a 3-2 home defeat to struggling Hull City.

Just which Rangers will turn up at Elland Road remains to be seen. As does how Bielsa tackles the latest instalment of an injury crisis that has seen 20 injuries befall senior players in the opening 20 games of the season.

Liam Cooper and Stuart Dallas, with knee and foot problems, respectively, were the latest to be ruled out long-term this week with the duo not expected back until well into the New Year.

Adam Forshaw, by breaking a bone in his foot during a routine pre-season training exercise, became the first of the squad inherited by Bielsa last summer to succumb to injury and he believes United can weather whatever is thrown at them.

As for the club’s encouraging league position, however, the midfielder is determined not to get carried away.

“We have not got half the points that we would need if we want to go up automatic,” he said. “There is a big period to come in these next five or six games.

“Let’s see how we come through these games. We have built up some great momentum with the recent wins and a few clean sheets. We are also looking like a really solid unit as well.

“But we are not halfway through the season yet. We have had a good start – or, sort of, first third – to the season and we can improve. We can still improve a lot.

“Of course, three wins on the bounce is great because if there is ever a time to put a run together it is now.”

As for the challenge posed today by a Rangers side sitting 11th in the table, Forshaw added: “They made a few good loan signings late on in the window – the two strikers are really good at this level.

“Geoff Cameron has also come into the side as well and done really well. They have shored it up.

“QPR have not had the best results in the last few games but they are a good Championship side. They have shown that by how they have picked up some points. It will be a tough game.”