Leeds United: 10 moments that were pivotal in promotion under Marcelo Bielsa

By Ian WoodcockBBC Sport
Marcelo Bielsa
Marcelo Bielsa has won 54 of his 98 games in charge of Leeds

Leeds United have finally ended their 16-year wait to return to the Premier League.

Their promotion from the Championship was secured on Friday when fellow challengers West Brom were beaten by Leeds' West Yorkshire rivals Huddersfield.

BBC Sport has put together a list of 10 moments that mattered - the good and the bad - since Marcelo Bielsa took over as head coach at Elland Road.

25 June, 2018

Bielsa's first news conference

Marcelo Bielsa
Marcelo Bielsa replaced Paul Heckingbottom as Leeds boss

Bielsa was appointed as Leeds boss on 15 June, 2018 but fans and media alike had to wait another 10 days to hear from the Argentine.

The appointment was seen as a major coup by many. After all, this was a man who was revered by Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola and former Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino.

Flanked, as ever, by an interpreter, Bielsa sat down after a big introduction from owner Andrea Radrizzani.

It was, as we have all become used to now, not brief.

In just shy of an hour and a half he covered topics as varied as why Leeds had failed last season, the fact that he had watched all 51 of their games from the previous campaign - including the two post-season games in Myanmar, whether players would be required to sleep at the training ground, who he preferred out of former Leeds bosses Don Revie and Brian Clough, and how he got the nickname El Loco (the crazy one).

Although he stopped short of saying promotion was the aim in his first year he admitted "it would be impossible not to be dreaming about that happening".

For Leeds fans who had been dreaming since they were relegated from the Premier League in 2004, it looked like they might now have someone who could make it a reality.

5 August, 2018

Leeds 3-1 Stoke City

Liam Cooper
Liam Cooper scored Leeds' third goal

It seems odd now but the late June optimism had given way to some early August wariness by the time the season got under way.

Bielsa had spoken in his first news conference about strengthening in four or five areas, but with striker Patrick Bamford not joining until the week before the home game against Stoke, Barry Douglas was the only new signing named in the starting XI for the game against the much-fancied Potters.

Leeds blew them away.

The visitors, like so many teams after them, had no answers to Leeds' relentless pressing and high-energy attacking.

"Leeds looked like they had more intensity and aggression about them," then Potters boss Gary Rowett admitted.

The following weekend the Whites repeated the trick with a thumping 4-1 win at a Frank Lampard-managed Derby.

16 January, 2019

Spygate news conference

Watch Bielsa's remarkable PowerPoint presentation

Hours before their home win over the Rams on 11 January it came to light that a member of Leeds staff had been found watching Derby train from a public footpath.

Bielsa admitted he had sent the person to do it at the time, Lampard called it "unethical" and the Football Association started an investigation.

Five days later the Argentine called an unscheduled news conference at the club's Thorp Arch training ground.

Rumours began to circulate that he was going to resign over the incident.

Instead Bielsa admitted that he had sent someone to watch all of their Championship opponents train and then detailed, at great length, the amount of analysis he and his team did on each team they faced.

Using a computer presentation and with dossiers stacked up in front of the screen, Bielsa said that analysis of each of their opponents' previous matches took four hours per game.

He showed Leeds had information on the percentage of games in which Derby used certain formations, which players were used in which positions and formations they had struggled against this season.

"I feel ashamed to show you this," he said.

Leeds were ultimately fined £200,000 by the FA. Bielsa paid it himself.

19 April, 2019

Leeds 1-2 Wigan

Leeds v Wigan
Leeds slumped to a surprise home defeat by Wigan

With four games of the 2018-19 season to go, Leeds were three points clear of third-placed Sheffield United.

The Blades eased to a 2-0 win over Nottingham Forest in one of Good Friday's early kick-offs to go above the Whites on goal difference. Leeds' home game against lowly Wigan, who had not won away all season, followed.

Their task was seemingly made easier by the early red card shown to Latics defender Cedric Kipre for handling on the line and though Pablo Hernandez hit the post from the resultant penalty, Bamford quickly made it 1-0.

Bielsa would call what followed "a decision of God" as Nathan Massey scored twice and, despite 77% possession and a staggering 36 attempted shots, Leeds lost.

A shellshocked Leeds then fell to a 2-0 defeat at Brentford and Bielsa conceded their hopes of automatic promotion were over.

"We should have finished in the top two this season. We have had many games that we deserved to win that we didn't win," he said.

"Obviously it was not our destiny to finish in the top two. We have needed twice as many opportunities to score a goal as other teams [at the top of the table] but you can't say to a team that has had all those chances that they did not deserve to win."

15 May, 2019

Leeds 2-4 Derby

Frank Lampard
Derby boss Frank Lampard could not contain his emotion at full-time

After a stuttering end to the season saw them lose three and draw one of their final four games it was understandable that Leeds entered the play-offs with many fans fearing the worst.

However, they recorded a 1-0 win at Pride Park in the first leg of their semi-final to set things up nicely for the return at Elland Road.

What followed will stand the test of time in play-off history.

A dominant Leeds made it 2-0 on aggregate thanks to Stuart Dallas' goal in the 24th minute and later hit the bar through Mateusz Klich as the Rams looked bereft of answers.

Just before half-time Derby were gifted a lifeline as a calamitous mix-up between Liam Cooper and Kiko Casilla left Jack Marriott to tap into an empty net.

Lampard's men then turned the tie completely on its head with a goal straight after the break from Chelsea loanee Mason Mount and then a penalty from Liverpool loanee Harry Wilson to make it 3-1 on the night.

Dallas got the Whites back to 3-3 on aggregate before Gaetano Berardi was sent off and Marriott won it with five minutes to go to leave the majority of the ground watching in stunned silence.

Was this the last we would see of Bielsa in England?

"If the club offers me the opportunity to carry on then I will consider the proposal," he said in the post-match news conference.

1 July, 2019

Ben White joins on loan

Ben White
Ben White has been a rock at the back

It's difficult to single out one signing from Bielsa's time in charge of the club.

Despite his critics, Bamford has ultimately scored the goals that have helped them win promotion, Manchester City loanee Jack Harrison has enjoyed a superb season and 20-year-old French goalkeeper Illan Meslier has belied his age with some excellent displays after Casilla was banned after being found guilty of racially abusing Charlton's Jonathan Leko.

However, there is one signing that perhaps best encapsulates Bielsa's ethic.

There was little fanfare when Ben White joined on loan from Brighton and the departure of popular centre-back Pontus Jansson to Brentford the following week only served to cause greater consternation among the Leeds fanbase.

They needn't have worried.

White has been absolutely superb at the back for Leeds this season and his excellent ability with the ball at his feet has even seen him deputise in midfield to cover for injuries or suspensions.

The 22-year-old's skills have been crucial to allowing the Whites to play the way Bielsa wants and they will be desperate to try and keep him on at Elland Road next season.

23 November, 2019

Luton 1-2 Leeds

Leeds celebrate
Leeds went second following their win at Kenilworth Road

The Whites made another positive start to the current campaign before a run of two wins from seven games left them third at the end of October.

However, in a congested Championship table they were just three points above 11th-placed Birmingham City as the season headed into November.

That sticky patch of form had seen Bielsa's men score just five goals and, with everyone keen to avoid another season of play-off heartache, concerns were growing that they could spend the season battling with numerous teams for one of the automatic spots.

Then they won their next seven matches.

Key among that run was the third victory, a 2-1 success at Luton that sent them up to second.

With the match tied at 1-1 in the final minute, Leeds launched a final attack and Hatters defender Matty Pearson put the ball into his own net.

Preston lost at Derby on the same day, as Leeds went three points clear of third place.

They did not spend a single day outside the top two from that day on.

8 February, 2020

Nottingham Forest 2-0 Leeds

Marcelo Bielsa
Their lead over third place went down to goal difference following defeat at Forest

The day it looked like it was all going to unravel.

Leeds' seven-match winning run had come to an end in dramatic style with a 3-3 draw against Cardiff in mid-December in a match that the Whites had led 3-0.

That result sparked a run of form that saw them win just two of 10 matches and, after this defeat at Forest, their lead over third place go from 11 points to goal difference.

A draw at fellow promotion hopefuls Brentford steadied the ship on a night when defeat would have seen the Bees leapfrog them.

The same night Forest lost at home to struggling Charlton when a win would have sent them second and Fulham could only draw at Millwall the following day, meaning they stayed behind Leeds on goal difference.

Even when Leeds' form deserted them nobody else was capable of stepping up and taking their place from them.

In the five games that followed the draw at Brentford the Whites' record was: played five, won five, scored nine, conceded none.

When football was brought to a halt because of the coronavirus pandemic in March they had re-established a seven-point lead over third.

27 June, 2020

Leeds 3-0 Fulham

Ezgjan Alioski
Ezgjan Alioski scored Leeds' second against Fulham

Leeds returned to action after the three-month hiatus with a bump, in the form of a 2-0 defeat at Cardiff City.

Bielsa was generally content with his side's performance after the match, which saw them punished for two individual mistakes and fail to take any of the numerous chances they created.

Fulham were the first visitors to the empty Elland Road. Scott Parker's men had also suffered a 2-0 reverse in their first game back, to high-flying Brentford, and needed a win to boost their ailing automatic promotion hopes.

Fulham striker Aleksandar Mitrovic was very lucky not to see red in the opening two minutes for an elbow on White that the referee missed but cameras didn't.

Leeds took the lead through Bamford's fine low shot before the visitors got on top and found themselves unlucky not to be at least level at the break.

Enter Pablo Hernandez.

The Spanish playmaker was nursing a hamstring injury that had kept him out of the defeat in Cardiff, but with the game, if not the scoreline, going against his side, Bielsa brought him on.

He capped a fine 45-minute cameo with the assist for Harrison's goal to seal a 3-0 win.

Hernandez then repeated the trick in the thumping 5-0 win over Stoke, coming on at half-time with Leeds leading 1-0, scoring once and claiming an assist, and then scoring the late winner at former side Swansea to leave Leeds on the verge of promotion.

17 July, 2020

Promotion sealed

Danny Cowley (right)
Danny Cowley's Huddersfield got Leeds over the line with two games to spare

When the moment that mattered finally arrived, Bielsa was nowhere to be seen. Nor were his Leeds players.

West Brom had to beat Huddersfield Town to delay the Leeds promotion party. But the Terriers' need for points in their relegation struggle proved greater.

A 2-1 win courtesy of Emile Smith Rowe's late goal meant there was double cause for celebrations in Yorkshire.

The Whites will lap up every minute of their long-awaited return, with the promise of more rejoicing to come.

Top Stories

Elsewhere on the BBC