Why Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds are taking the Premier League by storm

Ever since Leeds United won promotion last season, fans up and down the country have been desperate to see how Marcelo Bielsa’s side get on in the Premier League and so far, it’s safe to say they have not disappointed. With two wins from three games and their only loss a narrow defeat against the champions Liverpool, Leeds have handled the step up fantastically. With this in mind, we decided to take a look at how Bielsa is setting up his team to play and just how that compares to the rest of the league.

We all know Marcelo Bielsa is a tactical mastermind and has an incredible focus on attention to detail when it comes to specific ploys to nullify or exploit the opposition team, but we’re also going to look for any particular themes that have been present in Leeds’ Premier League campaign so far. In terms of shape, Leeds have lined up pretty similarly in all three of their opening Premier League games with a back 4 protected by Kalvin Phillips and a midfield led by Patrick Bamford up front. In their season opener against Liverpool, it was noticed by Jamie Carragher that Leeds were adopting a very rigid man marking approach when out of possession. This was probably Bielsa’s attempt to stifle Liverpool’s technical players in order to prevent them running riot with endless creative freedom. This is an interesting approach from the Argentine and one that has had a profound effect on Leeds’ performance defensively. Most notably in that it has led to Leeds having both the most tackles (73) in the league and also the most pressures (552) too. It’s a very aggressive way to defend and has meant they can boast more recoveries (199) than even Liverpool (189), a team known for their high pressing, ‘heavy-metal’ football.

Having said all this, it would be unfair to put Leeds’ early success purely down to defensive resilience as they have managed to notch 8 goals themselves too. Therefore, it makes sense to look at what they’re capable of with the ball. Straight away, what stands out to me is the fact that Leeds have lost possession 507 times this season, that’s more than any of their opponents so far this season. When you combine this with the fact that Leeds sit 7th in the league when it comes to average possession (53.4%) so far, it makes for rather curious reading. This would suggest that whilst Leeds give the ball away a lot, they are extremely good at winning it back and you could even argue that this might be a deliberate ploy from Bielsa to allow his side to catch teams out by winning the ball in dangerous areas.

Upon examining Leeds’ matches further, I noticed that Leeds attempted more long passes than any of their opponents so far with a huge 207, as well as having the 2nd highest number of offsides per game in the league. An interesting find when you consider that Leeds are definitely not known to be a long ball team and often put together some beautiful sequences on the floor. I dug into this a little deeper and found that Luke Ayling leads the whole league in progressive passing distance, and by some way! If you consider all three of these stats mentioned then you might come to the conclusion that perhaps the reason Leeds have lost possession so many times is because as well as being aggressive in the way the defend off the ball, they’re also aggressive in how they attack. Lots of long balls and offsides would imply that they are extremely direct and and perhaps this directness is coming at the cost of a fairly low success rate, another indicator that perhaps they look to catch other teams out by moving forward as soon as they get the ball back. With only 35 dribbles attempted, a stat that is only higher than that of four other teams, this certainly looks to be what Bielsa is going for.

All of the above supports the idea that Bielsa’s Leeds are a team that isn’t afraid to attack aggressively or ambitiously as they expect to lose the ball. They favour an approach of relentlessly trying to be positive with the ball in the hope that, although they’ll give it away, they’ll back themselves to win it straight back and try again, perhaps in a dangerous or better position. This could end up being a tricky system to maintain over the course of a season, as fatigue sets in, however, it looks set to make each fixture they play in a great spectacle. Overall, Leeds have certainly added a lot to the league so far and everyone will be intrigued to see how their aggressive style of play fares against other sides as the campaign goes on. Since we’ve jam packed this article with stats, we’ve got one more fun one for you – only Richarlison has managed more nutmegs this season than Helder Costa!

Where do you think Leeds will finish this season? Let us know in the comments below and don’t forget to follow us on twitter!

*All stats from Squawka & FBref

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