We all know what the Bielsa philosophy means now. We will see his Leeds United team pressing high, a quick transition between phases, vertical passing to cut out the maximum number of defenders, playing the ball out from the back, inverted wingbacks and always trying to maintain a one man advantage over the opposition whatever the phase of play. We’ve seen it in action already and so far it has been extremely exciting and extremely effective.
In action it looks complicated but Bielsa breaks down his squad into small groups in training to ensure everyone is aware of their responsibilities and what their positioning needs to be during each phase. The system only really gives one player any freedom, the playmaker, in our case Samu Saiz. Revelling in this role Saiz is back to being a world beater and his skills and passing have unlocked many opportunities already. He’s even stopped rolling around on the floor and is tracking back.
For the other nine outfield players on the pitch it’s about attitude, work rate and their willingness to buy into the system. Bielsa requires an incredible high work rate from his players. Wingbacks are expected to overlap, wingers required to cut in, midfielders break into the box and cover defensive responsibilities and everyone presses high, tracks back and breaks quickly during transition. It’s no wonder Leeds are top in the stats ratings.
It’s a system that doesn’t rely on the individuals reputation too much but is all about the collective, everyone working for each other, everyone supporting each other. It’s why a group of nine players who looked like they didn’t know each other last year look like world beaters this year. It’s why Jamie Shackleton can come on as a sub on Saturday and look like he’s played football at the top of the Championship all his life.
It’s also why our most expensive signing since Robbie Fowler and the highly rated Jack Harrison have been starting on the bench so far. Those who have bought into the system and have had time to adapt to it will always get the nod from Bielsa. The likes of Douglas, Ayling, Klich, Phillips, Alioski have run their socks off in the first two games, truly box to box.
The high intensity of the system is its main benefit but can also be it’s downfall. Keeping this up for the whole season will be difficult. It’s important that every signing we make buys into the system, why the philosophy, and we finally have one as a club, is taught right through the youth levels. Bamford, Harrison and co may not have been given the nod so far this year but they will play a big par this season as will the likes of Shackleton and Edmondson.
Tuesday nights game will be a useful chance for Bielsa to give some of the starting eleven a breather and a good opportunity for us to see how the whole squad is adapting to the new system. Because ultimately this season it’s the collective that will matter, not the individual.
Welcome to Marching on Together
13 Aug 2018 09:59pm, by Shields53
12 Aug 2018 10:58am, by Shields53
From the minute that Marcelo Bielsa was linked as a potential candidate for the vacant head coach role at Leeds United there was a great deal of excitement and anticipation in the air. His appointment is a bit of a coup d'état and potentially the most exciting appointment the club have ever made. It’s not just Leeds fans that were excited either, it seemed sometimes that the whole footballing world was salivating at the prospect of Bielsa managing in England and potentially reviving one of football’s sleeping giants.
When your new coach is touted as ‘one the most influential football minds of his generation’ and the likes of Pep Guardiola have described him in the past as ‘the best manager in the world’ it is difficult not to get excited. As much of a surprise Bielsa’s appointment was, in some ways it feels like a very ‘Leeds United’ appointment. Bielsa, like Leeds United, is something of an under achiever. For all the brilliance and promise he has never quite achieved the success in terms of trophies many think he deserves. He’s also prone to moments of self-destruction such as quitting Lazio after just two days.
So with the excitement come the questions; Will Bielsa be effective in the Championship? Will the players be able to adapt to the new system? Can the intensity of Bielsa’s style last a long hard English season? Leeds fans aren’t naïve enough to ignore these questions, we know his history, we know the baggage he comes with but there is only one man who can answer these questions… and answer them he has. At east the first two anyway.
In Stoke and Derby we have put two of the contenders for the Championship title to the sword emphatically. Bielsa’s style clearly works in the Championship the high press and work rate of the players had both our opponents so far on the back foot with little chance to impose themselves on the game. Just as last season though the challenge will come when teams sit back and match our work rate. So far so good though.
With nine of the eleven players to start this seasons first two games the same as those that finished last season we are seeing a remarkable difference on the pitch. The players have clearly bought into the system, their work rate, attitude and support for each other both on and off the ball has been fantastic. Mateusz Klich is a revelation, Kemar Roofe has built on everything he offered last season (Two man of the match awards so far) and Saiz looks back to his glorious best, though so far he seems to have cut out the rolling around on the floor.
We are closing teams down and winning the ball back high up the pitch, we are breaking quickly and in numbers and playing the ball out from the back. It’s exciting, really exciting and it doesn’t just seem to be Leeds fans who are getting excited about it. Looking back at history though, both last season tailing off for Leeds and Bielsa’s own history the big question is can it last? Can the players keep this intensity up or will they be exhausted come January? I don’t know the answer, only Bielsa and the players can answer that but it’s going to be genuinely thrilling finding out.
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