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Marcelo Bielsa: Leeds always wanted to earn promotion on the pitch

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Marcelo Bielsa
Image: Marcelo Bielsa's Leeds side were on a five-game winning streak when the Championship season was suspended in March

Marcelo Bielsa has revealed he was never in favour of the Championship season being curtailed and always aimed for Leeds to earn promotion by playing out the final nine fixtures.

When the season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic on March 13, the Argentinian's side led the division on 71 points, one ahead of nearest challengers West Brom, having won their previous five games in succession.

But, though a premature conclusion to the season may have seen the Yorkshire club promoted back to the Premier League for the first time since the 2003/04 campaign, Bielsa is now focused on achieving promotion in the originally planned manner.

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"To think we [would] get something without playing is very disappointing," said Bielsa ahead of Leeds' trip to Cardiff on Sunday - a game that is live on Sky Sports Football from 11.30am.

"The players have made a big effort so far, they've worked very responsibly. Even though we have had a long period of time working on the physical preparation and one month of tactical and technical work, it is not like a normal pre-season.

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"It is not the same as starting in the first match and thinking afterwards we have 45 matches. This is not a problem for us, it is a situation everybody has to face without exception.

"This is the best way our authority found to try to resume the season and we are ready to go. The football we are going to play is not the same football as before, for this reason it is very important to wait for the matches to be played before analysing our performance.

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"The more important thing is the mental adaptation of the players to the new environment and situation."

The current government guidelines mean fans will be unable to attend any of the remaining fixtures this term and the 64-year-old - who recently celebrated two years in charge at Elland Road - has admitted the game will be "different" moving forward.

Bielsa added: "All the people around the players in Leeds, in the club, have supported us in a lot of different ways. For that reason, we appreciate and we say thank you to them for this support.

Image: Leeds sit top of the Championship ahead of Sunday's clash away to Neil Harris' Cardiff

"Not being able to share this last period of nine matches with the supporters, with the fans, is something I never wished.

"The best thing in football is the fan, the spectator. The presence of the supporter is something very important. Everyone in the Championship has to adapt with this lack of supporter and what they mean to football.

"We know public health is above the rest of the things and football is secondary if we compare with public health, but we have to say the communication between the players and the supporters makes football. Without this relationship football is different."

Bilic wary, Frank out to upset favourites

Hot on Leeds' heels are Slaven Bilic's West Brom. The pair have regularly traded places at the summit this season, with neither having dropped out of the automatic promotion places since October.

And while Bielsa has noted how crucial the absence of fans could be, Bilic has called on his side to use it to their advantage.

Slaven Bilic is tasked with leading West Brom to a return to the Premier League
Image: Slaven Bilic has called on his West Brom side to use the pressure of promotion to their advantage

"Nothing is easy," he told the Daily Mail earlier this week. "There is big pressure on us and playing in empty stadiums shouldn't change our attitude.

"Our goal is not to have somebody clap us. The goal is going to the Premier League. That kind of achievement requires that you cope with pressure.

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"We want to finish the season as we were doing. We were up there. Of course, there is a long way to go but we are in a good position and have a strong belief in ourselves.

"We don't think that we are in the Premier League already. We are well placed but nobody knows how it's going to be. We have nine games in one month, which is an awful lot, and behind closed doors. There are many questions to answer."

Elsewhere, although the 10-point gap between Brentford and the top two means the odds are not in the Bees' favour, boss Thomas Frank says they will continue to target automatic promotion and a first season in the Premier League in the club's history.

"Our aim is to get promoted. We are in a good position in the league," the Dane said.

"We don't take anything for granted but we trust ourselves and believe in ourselves. As long as there is a chance we will go for that [top two spot].

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"We know we play, on our day, some very nice, attractive forward-thinking football but the one standout thing we have done so much better this year is defend.

"We are in a better place because we have all our injured players back. Everybody is fit and ready for selection which is very positive. When we can play our strongest team, plus having the next in line, then we are very strong."

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