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Dean Smith: 'I have the utmost respect for Marcelo Bielsa'

Dean Smith: 'I have the utmost respect for Marcelo Bielsa'
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It is the first match between the clubs since the 'gift goal' incident at Elland Road.

Aston Villa boss Dean Smith has spoken of his respect for Leeds counterpart Marcelo Bielsa ahead of the first match between the clubs since the 'gift goal' incident at Elland Road last year.

The 1-1 Championship draw between the sides in April 2019 memorably saw Bielsa instruct his players to let Smith's men walk in an equaliser.

That was after Mateusz Klich had scored as Villa's Jonathan Kodjia lay injured, prompting a furious reaction from the visitors.

Leeds missed out on automatic promotion and were eliminated by Derby in the play-offs that Villa ended up winning, before gaining promotion as champions the following season. Bielsa's actions in the game against Villa earned him the 2019 FIFA Fair Play Award.

When asked about that match ahead of Friday's Premier League encounter at Villa Park, Smith said: "I had the utmost respect for him anyway.

"We'd qualified for the play-offs, as had Leeds. They still had an outside chance of getting automatic.

"There was a lot made of the incident, but there wasn't once it had been done from myself and Marcelo. We just felt it was the right decision.

"A lot of people forget that just before, one of their players had gone down, we were attacking and Conor Hourihane put the ball out. He felt it was the right thing to do, and we did.

"Obviously when Jonathan Kodjia went down we expected that to be reciprocated, it wasn't, and we all know the rest. We were very thankful Marcelo felt he wanted his team to give us the goal back for the integrity of the game.

"You certainly don't always see that sort of thing. There was an awful lot of emotion on the pitch, from our bench, because of what had happened four minutes previous. It takes cool heads in those moments and he (Bielsa) certainly showed that."

Smith said it was something he and Bielsa had not spoken about since, and added: "The three games I've had (against Bielsa) have been really competitive, and I expect the same again."

Villa go into the contest having won each of their opening four league matches of a campaign for the first time since 1930-31.

"I think our role always as head coach, as players, is to try to create history for the club," Smith said.

"There'll be people that'll say 'they've won four on the spin, they're not going to win any more', and 'they're not going to up in amongst the upper echelons'. The game, and life is always about looking to prove people wrong."

Leeds will be without injured England midfielder Kalvin Phillips, a player who Smith confirmed Villa were interested in during the summer of 2019.

"He was on a list of players we were interested in but as far as I was aware it never got past initial talks stages, with the price I think they wanted – and rightly so," he said.

Smith has also expressed frustration over short notice of when games will take place, pointing to the forthcoming trip to Arsenal, set to be played after the Gunners' Europa League clash with Molde on November 5.

He said: "It upsets our planning. We still don't know when the Arsenal game is going to be yet, which is only a couple of weeks away.

"I'm not sure if the live games have been chosen yet for November, and then there's this new pay-per-view fixture listing as well. Unfortunately we have to sit and wait to find out when it is."

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Aston Villa's Tom Heaton celebrates their first goal against Everton on August 23, 2019
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