How Bielsa transformed Leeds United
Leeds United have spent the seasons since 2010/11, when they were promoted to the Championship, falling short of a return to the top tier. Under new manager Marcelo Bielsa they may have failed to achieve that again this year, but their third-place finish and exciting playing style offer hope to fans that they will not have to wait too much longer for this return.
Leeds spent most of the season among the teams challenging for promotion, alongside the likes of Norwich, West Brom and Sheffield United, making these sides the ones people providing football accumulator tips often backed as good bets together. The team under Bielsa won 25 of its 46 league matches, scoring 73 goals while conceding 50, which left them with a final goal difference of plus-23 – and 83 points. But how exactly has he set about reviving their fortunes?
Pace, movement and width
Bielsa’s preferred way of playing is a fast-paced, direct approach based on using the wings and retaining possession of the ball so that his Leeds team can keep the pressure up on opponents. He has instilled a high-intensity pressing style which seeks to gain an advantage by forcing errors from opposing teams through this pressure and through players shifting positions on the pitch, requiring the opposition to also shift to adapt, which leaves gaps. The use of wide players helps with this movement, as it enables Leeds to switch the play from one side of the pitch to the other, dragging opponents out of position and creating spaces that can be exploited. The service from the wide players to the strikers has been a key part of Leeds’ success this season.
Leeds in possession
Retaining possession is absolutely crucial to Bielsa’s approach at Leeds and it is clearly something that has been drilled into the players during the coaching sessions. The stats show that Leeds had an average possession rate of 59.5 percent for 2018/19, which was the highest for the league. Possession stats can be misleading because it is easy to have harmless possession in your own half of the pitch or in front of the opposition, but Leeds under Bielsa also produced the most shots on goal of any Championship team, so this was possession that led to the creation of goal scoring opportunities. The combination of a possession style with pace and aggression has made Leeds one of the hardest sides in the league to play against.
Bielsa has also proven to be adept at uniting the players and fans at a club where discord and disillusionment had been rife for years. Through the exciting playing style and his enthusiasm for the club, Bielsa has brought supporters back – with Leeds now regularly playing in front of sell-out crowds at Elland Road. Both the way he likes his team to play and the relationship he has built with the club’s passionate supporters have something in common with what Jurgen Klopp is doing at Liverpool. Now Leeds need to take the next step and achieve real success.
Bielsa is remaking Leeds United in his own image and if the team can make smart use of their limited transfer funds during the summer they will be among the favourites for promotion next season.