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How Patrick Bamford is continuing to prove he is Marco Bielsa’s main man

In a Premier League season in which Leeds United have found consistency hard to come by, their centre-forward has continued to deliver. Sunday’s win against Leicester City showed again why Patrick Bamford remains Marco Bielsa’s main man. 

Leeds’ 3-1 victory at the King Power was led by their English striker, who registered two assists and a goal as Bielsa’s team produced a typical high-intensity performance. At the top of the attack Bamford set the pace for the energetic press and proved why he has been a mainstay of Bielsa’s team since 2018.

 

Despite his place in the team being threatened at times, with Eddie Nketiah’s loan stint last season, and Rodrigo’s big-money arrival this year, Bamford has continually batted away the competition. Now, he looks to have stepped up another level and is proving to be one of the Premier League’s top strikers.

At 27-years-old this isn’t Bamford’s first crack at England’s top flight. Despite spending five years at Chelsea, he failed to make a first-team appearance, loans at Crystal Palace, Norwich City and Burnley were all unsuccessful and his time in the Premier League with Middlesbrough ended in relegation. By the time he signed for Championship side Leeds United in the summer of 2018, there was a feeling that the English second-tier might just be his ceiling.

This year, Bamford has answered those questions emphatically. Having already scored as many goals as Jamie Vardy, and only one less than Harry Kane, the Leeds man has registered more shots on target than anyone else this season.

This isn’t due to a fortunate run of lucky finishes either – Patrick Bamford also leads the way for non-penalty expected goals in the Premier League (10.6). Playing Bielsa’s free-flowing and forward thinking football, he is not starved of chances but he is still providing a clinical instinct that was not evident during his previous stints in the Premier League.

In Leed’s fluid system Bamford has also looked comfortable dropping deeper and turning provider, as the wide players, typically Raphinia and Harrison, race past him into the space he vacates. This was evident in the lead up to Leed’s opening goal against Leicester, scored by Stuart Dallas. Bamford’s assist tally of four is bettered only by Mateusz Klich at Leeds this season.

In October Marco Bielsa called Bamford a ‘noble player who sacrifices a lot for the team’. Following Sunday’s victory the Argentine manager described Bamford as ‘generous’. When Leeds United completed the transfer of their record signing, Rodrigo, in the summer, many supporters would have been forgiven for expecting the striker to dislodge Bamford’s place.

But it is his ‘sacrifices’ and ‘generosity’ that Bielsa values so highly from the striker in his teams. Bamford has understood the role perfectly. Having made more attacking-third tackles and pressures per 90 minutes than Rodrigo, the No.9 takes responsibility as the instigator of the press.

His decision to slide the ball across the box for Jack Harrison to tap in Leeds’ third goal on Sunday highlighted his selfless play at the point of attack and an attitude that epitomises Bielsa’s football. “What I value the most is that for the Harrison goal he chose to give the pass, which is not usual for a goalscorer. It described Bamford more than anything, that he thinks more about the team than his result,” the manager told Sky Sports after the game.

When it came to a Championship striker stepping up into the Premier League, all attention turned towards Aston Villa’s record £28m signing of Ollie Watkins from Brentford at the beginning of the campaign.

Despite the fee, and the success of Dean Smith’s side, it is Bamford who has quietly been outperforming Watkins following the step up. With three more goals and two more assists having only played one game more than his compatriot, the Leeds man may be benefitting from the ability to draw on his previous unsuccessful Premier League experience.

Watkins, on the other hand, is making his debut season in the league. In fact, Bamford’s numbers stand up against most of the other English strikers in the top-flight, as he strives to earn himself a first England cap.

With a European Championships approaching, England captain Harry Kane is likely to start, and Calvert-Lewin is beginning to establish himself under Gareth Southgate. That leaves a third striker’s spot up for grabs and so far this season Bamford is building his case by bettering the likes of Danny Ings and Tammy Abraham with overall performance and goals.

Bamford’s rise is a story of perseverance. After a string of failures at the pinnacle of English football, his recent Premier League success is a lesson in not giving up. The forward has found his team in Leeds United and is flourishing in the demanding Bielsa regime.

Although he may not be one of the most glamorous names involved in Leeds United’s recent renaissance, he is the man Marco Bielsa is least open to dropping. With the goals and assists flowing, and his confidence heightening, Bamford is demonstrating that this time around, he is more than ready for the Premier League challenge.

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