Leeds United FC began the 2019 campaign, once more, under the guidance of one of football’s most respected and imitated managers, the legendary Marcelo Bielsa. By the enforced season stand-by, Leeds FC was leading the Championship table. What have been the tactics and strategies introduced by Bielsa for this Premier League hopeful side?
Marcelo Bielsa’s style
Marcelo Bielsa is a man revered by some of the world’s best managers. Pep Guardiola, Mauricio Pochettino, and Zinedine Zidane have all strived to copy some of the aspects of the Argentinian’s style.
In fact, a good part of modern football tactics can be traced back to Bielsa’s innovations. The manager pioneered the type of offensive, possession-based football that is so popular today. He has looked to employ his vision regardless of the caliber of the teams he has managed.
Bielsa’s players are encouraged to move constantly, looking for passing avenues and for opportunities to destabilize player marking. There is, usually, considerable width between the players who need to pass the ball directly. With that being said, the attacks are started from the central defense line and long balls are rarely used out of fear of losing possession.
Leeds United FC’s tactics and formation
England’s Leeds United is a team with a proud history. However, they had been struggling in the Championship, following their 2011 promotion, and prior to Bielsa’s arrival.
El Loco, as Bielsa is famously nicknamed, introduced tactics meant to help Leeds outscore opponents. The manager implements a high tempo style of play, constructed around intricate planning and knowledge of the opposition. Various former players of Bielsa have described working under the manager as similar to being in the army.
The Bielsa style is usually associated with the 3-3-1-3 formation. This can, however, be modified into a 4-1-4-1 as is the case, most often with Leeds. The team presses hard to win the ball within seconds of losing possession and direct passes encourage a high-paced counter-attacking game.
Leeds United’s most important players and their roles
Leeds FC, in its modern version, is a team that needs to control possession and create plenty of shooting opportunities. Goal threats are created through quick buildup that starts at the back. Bielsa favors central defenders with strong technical and passing skills. It’s also worth noting that when in attack, the four-man defensive line will include three players.
Kalvin Phillips, perhaps Leeds’ most important player, will have a tendency to move in between the central defenders, while the wide-defenders will play in wing-back roles, providing support to the wide midfielder who become inside forwards. The purpose is to overload the wide areas while in attack.
The role of the striker is vital to Leeds’ tactics. This season, Patrick Bamford has usually taken on that role. The striker is expected to move into channels, taking the opposition markers with him before supplying wide and backward passes to supporting players.
Kalvin Phillips and his role for Leeds United
Marcelo Bielsa also likes to use a more advanced midfielder in the role of an enganche. This player is supposed to link the midfield and attacking areas hover above the yard-box and his defensive duties are less urgent than those of his teammates. Former Valencia player, Pablo Hernandez usually fulfills this role.
But, the most important element of this Leeds United side is its use of Kalvin Phillips, in a role similar to that of a regista or a half-back. Phillips will usually drop down to pick up loose balls. He will then begin attacking buildup with direct balls that, sometimes, directly put the team in goalscoring situations.
It is no wonder that the Leeds United stadium, Elland Road, has been full to capacity since Marcelo Bielsa’s much-covered arrival. The team plays with a flair and discipline that sets them apart from their Championship counterparts. If Leeds gets denied the chance to attempt promotion this year, it would truly be unhappy news for all fans of British football.