By Nick Ware

28th Mar, 2021 | 10:19am

Marcelo Bielsa tops Premier League manager stat for youth minutes with Leeds

Calls to hand starlet Joe Gelhardt his Leeds United debut grow louder but Marcelo Bielsa is proving that U23s action is a pathway to first-team success.

Leeds U23s have swept all before them this season to seemingly run away with the Premier League 2 Division 2 title – they are now 13 points clear of nearest challengers Stoke City who have five games remaining.

Cody Drameh, Sam Greenwood and Crysencio Summerville are among the youngsters to have impressed this season but the biggest revelation has been summer signing Gelhardt.

The 18-year-old has hit 11 goals for them, including a hat-trick v West Brom U23s on Monday, and assisted on three occasions in just 15 Premier League 2 appearances.

Naturally Leeds fans are eager to see him in action but Bielsa has so far resisted throwing him into the side, though he has been a regular on the substitutes bench of late.

However a stat uncovered by LUFCDATA on their Twitter profile highlights how El Loco’s patience in the past has paid off and he might well make a point of this when queried about not throwing his young stars in straight away.

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According to LUFCDATA Bielsa has given more minutes to players aged below 22 than any other Premier League manager this season (5043).

The main beneficiaries of this have been Illan Meslier (2,520 mins), Pascal Struijk (1,515) and Jamie Shackleton (455).

Chelsea actually just edge in overall minutes handed to players under 22 but theirs have been shared by two managers, Frank Lampard and current incumbent to the post Thomas Tuchel.

What’s important to note is that all of these players had to bide their time and do their stints in the U23s team.

In particular, Struijk was on the periphery last season, making just five Championship appearances, but training with the first-team and learning his way out of the glaring spotlight has helped him to be a Whites breakout star this season and he now has 19 Premier League games under his belt.

That’s why a bit of perspective might be needed with Gelhardt.

Yes, we all want to see him thrown in and take the Premier League by storm, Wayne Rooney-esque.

But Bielsa’s methods have been proven to pay off and it indicates that next season could be when he explodes into life at Elland Road.

In other Leeds United news, Kalvin Phillips pinpoints Harry Kane ambition.