Marcelo Bielsa praises 'special' Raphinha and Struijk after crucial Leeds United win at Norwich
Marcelo Bielsa believes Leeds United were good value for bringing home all three points in their crucial Premier League game at Norwich City.
The Whites were not at their best, but found a way to win 2-1 to avoid coming out of the weekend in the bottom three.
Second half goals from Raphinha and Rodrigo either side of Andrew Omobamidele's equaliser in four crazy second half minutes proved enough to bring the much needed victory.
“The performance was a deserved victory," said head coach Bielsa.
"The game was very disputed, it wasn’t an easy game to play for us.
“We had many situations where we could have created danger but despite that, we didn’t manage to create that many.
“The ones we did obtain there wasn’t a great percentage that we could transform into a goal. It was difficult for us to play well with continuity.
“Despite that we had a lot of options in attack. In general lines, it was a deserved win, in a game where it was difficult to stand out to shine.”
Bielsa was pleased to have midfielder Kalvin Phillips and star winger Raphinha available to start again after recent injuries and both played their part along with another stand out in Pascal Struijk, who played in a back three.
He added “We had Kalvin and Raphinha back, and of course, the more of our usual players that are back, the more chances we have.
“Having said that, we are also missing Luke Ayling, Junior Firpo, Robin Koch and Patrick Bamford and we were able to put out a good enough performance.
“Raphinha is a player that is different, that is special, with a capacity to unbalance that is very big.”
"He (Struijk) is a player who has very important conditions. He's a clear exponent of the type of centre-backs Dutch football creates.
"It’s not difficult for him to play in front of the centre-backs as a defensive midfielder. He did so very well against Wolverhampton.
"When he plays on the left side of a back three he has to go out wide and does not suffer. He has a great aerial game and manages his right foot very well. That's so many good things in just one player."
Norwich set their stall out early to try to prevent United from playing out from the back in the way they would have liked to, but struggled to create any clear chances in the game in open play.
Leeds had the first big chance when Dan James - surprisingly playing up front ahead of Rodrigo - was sent through by Stuart Dallas's superb pass and chose to round home keeper Tim Krul only to then have his shot cleared by Grant Hanley.
Norwich had their first opportunities, but Teemu Pukki sent his effort wide and Max Aarons then saw his shot well blocked by Struijk.
Diego Llorente sent a header over and Rodrigo's shot from outside the area was comfortably saved by Krul, but further good positions were wasted by poor final passes and decisions despite some good prompting as ever from Raphinha.
Illan Meslier was forced into a save to deny Milot Rashica's long range strike while Mathias Normann went close with a shot from the edge of the box from the resulting corner and the first half ended goalless.
Meslier had to save another effort from range early in the second half when he got down well and held the ball equally impressively from Rashica's free-kick.
The deadlock was finally broken when Struijk found James and his early pass gave Raphinha the chance he had been loking for to attack the last man. He went by Omobamidele and cut inside to plant a low shot into the net for his fourth goal of the season.
The lead was to last less than two minutes ,however, as Meslier sloppily gave away a corner with a stray pass and from it Norwich scored as Omobamidele put his defensive problems behind him to plant a powerful header into the net again - once again Leeds being undone by a set piece.
The action was suddenly coming thick and fast, though, and within another two minutes United were back ahead.
Struijk won the ball high up the pitch, Phillips found Rodrigo and the Spanish forward let fly with a shot from 25 yards. It was well struck, but not his best placed and somehow squirmed under Krul's body to end up in the back of the net.
Now it was about preserving the lead and Leeds did it well enough, their only alarm being another corner when Kenny McLean's header was saved by Meslier.
Cody Drameh made his Premier League debut when coming on for the injured Shackleton, but was not really tested and the Whites were even able to see out more than five minutes of added time without any nervy moments to collect the precious points.
Norwich City 1
Leeds United 2
(Raphinha 56, Rodrigo 60)
Sunday, October 31, 2021
Norwich: Krul; Aarons, Kabak, Hanley (Placheta 87), Omobamidele; Normann, Dowell (Tzolis 69), McLean, Rashica; Pukki, Sargent (Idah 77).
Leeds: Meslier; Llorente, Cooper, Struijk; Shackleton (Drameh 71), Phillips, Dallas; Raphinha, Rodrigo (Roberts 88), Harrison; James (Forshaw 77).
Referee: Anthony Taylor