Marcelo Bielsa’s Lewis Bate masterplan on track as Leeds United midfielder passes latest test

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When Leeds United signed Lewis Bate from Chelsea this summer, they managed to secure one of the most highly-rated midfielders in the country at his age-group.

Victor Orta managed to convince Bate that Leeds was the best place for him to make the next step in his career, despite bids on the table from other Premier League clubs, including Liverpool.

As such, the midfielder arriving at Elland Road was seen as something of a coup and both club and player see this as a transfer with the future of the first-team in mind. That being said, that’s not where he’s been playing yet and nor is he likely to be included for some time.

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Despite some excellent performances – including in the 3-2 victory at Oldham as Leeds U21s triumphed in the EFL Trophy – young players like Bate have to work over a sustained period of time to demonstrate to Marcelo Bielsa that they are deserving of a place within his first-team squad.

The Argentine has spoken before about what it takes for young players to force their way into his thinking, saying that the players have to ‘overcome’ those ahead of them in the pecking order and earn the respect of the first-teamers.

“There’s something that’s very representative when a young player shines for real, the first ones to perceive their possibilities is the group in the first-team when they see that there is a player who’s good for real,” he said.

“It’s not that they say it, you notice that when this happens, they want that player next to them, not behind them. I have lived this many times.”

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With that knowledge in mind, it’s clear that the teenage midfielder still has a road ahead of him in terms of forcing his way into a Premier League squad for Leeds. However, it is tempting to think about what he could offer to the Whites’ midfield, particularly given the way in which Bielsa’s side have struggled to control the ball in the early games this season.

The ex-Chelsea man has the ability to control games at U23s level, as he possesses superb awareness, scanning his surroundings regularly to ensure that he receives the ball in space. He also carries the ball very well, with his low centre of gravity helping him to change direction quickly and dodge opponents. Alongside that, he has an excellent left-foot and can pass zipped balls through opposition lines to the feet of his teammates, as well as spray long passes out to the wings.

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The Oldham performance was a test passed for Bate, as he showed his ability to control the game against senior level opponents, albeit senior opponents rooted to the bottom of the Football League. Following the game, Leeds’ development squad manager, Mark Jackson spoke about his side’s management of the game, saying that “the way we thought about the game and managing the ball, drawing us onto us and trying to exploit them (Oldham)” was key to his side’s victory. Bate’s quality on the ball, constant movement and controlling the tempo was a huge reason why Leeds were able to draw Oldham onto them and get the win.

After Oldham reduced the 2-0 lead that Leeds held midway through the second half to a single goal, it was Bate who laid on the third goal for Max Dean. On this occasion he demonstrated attacking instincts, bursting into the box and waiting for the opportune moment to cut the ball back to Dean to finish via a deflection.

When it comes to making a bow for the first-team, opportunities have come recently for Crysencio Summerville, Charlie Cresswell, Joe Gelhardt and Stuart McKinstry. Summerville and Cresswell each started in the recent Carabao Cup games and Cresswell impressed Bielsa enough in that performance to convince the Argentine that he was a better option than moving Kalvin Phillips to play at the back against West Ham United last weekend.

Last night’s EFL Trophy game will have surely have helped Bate’s standing, however – given the difference in competition and opponent – it won’t have caused Bielsa to reconsider his pecking order in the same way that Cresswell managed to against Fulham. He will have to keep his head down and continue to impress in Premier League Two and -perhaps more importantly – in Murderball if he wants to push his way ahead of some of Bielsa’s preferred options.

However, it is well known that Leeds have pursued a midfielder for the last two summers and come out empty handed on each occasion. Bate has shown enough in the early period of his time at the club to get fans asking the question of what he might be able to offer in the immediacy rather than in the future. For now though, everybody will have to remain patient and trust in the club’s plan.

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