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.
“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.