4 Wide Avenues of Attack at Bielsa’s Leeds

By Matías Navarro García

06-November-2020 on Analysis

16 minute read

Analyst Matías Navarro perhaps knows Marcelo Bielsa better than anyone. A tactical analyst by profession, Matías also runs La Pizarra de Bielsa channels on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube which are dedicated solely to the Argentinian manager.


In this article, Matías talks us through some of the key points which have allowed Leeds to get off to such a flying start in this year’s Premier League.

The flying start that Leeds have made this season in the Premier League would suggest that Marcelo Bielsa’s team will be one of the most attractive to watch this season. 

 

With the typical dynamic playstyle of the Argentinian, the men from Yorkshire have innumerable routes into a scoring position. Players constantly rotate, dragging markers out of position and creating space and superiority on the wings in order to cross the ball into the box and create scoring opportunities.

 

In fact, zones 16 (left wing) and 18 (right wing) are extremely difficult for opposition teams to defend due to the unpredictability generated when different players, forwards, wingers and midfielders, arrive in these areas due to the constant rotation. In addition, each player has a different role according to their position - attack, playmaking or support.

 

 

In the 1-1 against Manchester City, Leeds had the second lowest number of crosses so far in the competition (13) and were characterised by the long ball (the 2nd highest number of long balls) and a more centralised attack than their usual wide game.

 

The high pressure of Guardiola’s team made it difficult to develop triangles out wide and the attacks were more linear with the winger receiving the ball on the outside and being forced to play it inside for the central midfielders to try and make some kind of move up the field.

 

Analysis Leeds Bielsa 1

 

With Alioski on the wing and Dallas (left back) attacking on the inside, Leeds try to switch wings to build the attack.

 

Analysis Leeds Bielsa 2

 

Bielsa always recommends that the winger attacks the opposing wing back 1v1 and vice versa. Apart from the 1v1 situation, Klich attacks the space to support on the inside while Ayling hangs back to make it 3v2. The play ends with a cross from Ayling. 

 

Analysis Leeds Bielsa 3

 

Costa (winger) receives the ball in space whilst Ayling breaks behind.

 

Analysis Leeds Bielsa 4

 

A different 1v1 in this example but we can see that Leeds always keep a man on the inside for support.

 

The flipside of this was the defeat in the following game against Wolves where Leeds recorded 37 crosses, a record for Bielsa’s team in the tournament. Although they generated the least amount of danger, only two shots on goal, it was also the match in which they showed off a greater variation of moves to get to those key quadrants, zones 16 and 18.

 

Bamford Unleashed

 

The connection between Bamford and Rodrigo is strengthening month by month, with the number 9 being a beacon in the area for the Spaniard to follow and connect with. The Englishman has great intelligence and awareness of where to be at any given time. It’s just as common to see him supporting a Leeds buildup at the back as it is to see him utilise his speed to receive the ball at the edge of the box, working with Moreno and the wingers, Harrison and Costa, who divide the danger and get into rebound zones.

 

Analysis Leeds Bielsa 6

 

Bamford pivots, looks for Klich and attacks space.

 

Analysis Leeds Bielsa 7

 

The right boot of Klich is key to deepening Leeds' quick attacks.

 

Analysis Leeds Bielsa 8

 

Bamford's attack is supported by the arrival of Rodrigo and Harrison whilst Costa appears to shore up the attack.

 

The Wide Game

 

Among the most repeated tactics that Leeds employ to leave a 1v1 on the wings is the triangle they form using the winger, wing back and one of the midfield, often the omnipresent Klich.

 

With a defensive line of 5 as fielded by Wolves, the role of the Pole between the lines was key to drawing in one of the opposing midfielders and a winger. This freed up space for Costa and Harrison to get in behind the defense to generate more presence in the area.

 

Analysis Leeds Bielsa 9

 

Costa starts wide, while Ayling passes to Klich and attacks from the inside.

 

Analysis Leeds Bielsa 10

 

Leeds take advantage of Klich's facility to filter passes.

 

Analysis Leeds Bielsa 12

 

Leeds enter the opposition box with Rodrigo, Bamford and Dallas (left back), while Ayling arrives at the back of the triangle

 

Analysis Leeds Bielsa 14

 

Harrison and Dallas face a 2v2 with the support of Phillips and Klich already identifying space.

 

Analysis Leeds Bielsa 15

 

Klich positions himself in the space vacated by the Wolves sweeper and becomes the 3rd man.

 

Analysis Leeds Bielsa 16

 

Leeds attack the center with Rodrigo, Bamford and Costa, while Ayling (right back) positions himself for the rebound and Dallas (left back) closes in to cut off any possible counterattack.

 

Analysis Leeds Bielsa 17

 

In the end, the shot falls to Ayling.

 

But it’s not only from midfield where the wingers receive support. In exceptional situations, where midfielder, winger and wing back are in the same lane, one of the forwards will drop back to generate the third man inside the opponents half.

 

Analysis Leeds Bielsa 18

 

The forwards shake their markers to receive the long ball while Dallas, just behind, watches on to try and avoid possible counterattacks.

 

Analysis Leeds Bielsa 19

 

The ball goes from Klich to Ayling, with Costa attacking the space and Rodrigo serving as support for the man from Portugal who gets the ball behind Wolves’ defensive line.

 

Analysis Leeds Bielsa 20

 

Rodrigo filters the ball through.

 

Analysis Leeds Bielsa 21

 

Leeds pack 4 players into the danger zone, awaiting the cross. Ayling closes in to receive a backpass whilst Klich positions himself on the edge of the box, waiting for a rebound or possible counter.

 

The Multi-Functionality of the Full-Backs

 

In Bielsa’s footballing culture, players must know how to play in multiple positions because the dynamism of the game means that one player must both attack and defend in any area of the field.

 

Leeds clearly have that versatility out wide. The current situation in the game takes priority over the starting position of the players.

 

This is why it is common to see Ayling and Dallas attacking in different lanes, always with their teammates covering, playing in a harmonious rotation where occupation of space is more important than their assigned position.

 

Analysis Leeds Bielsa 22

 

Ayling opens up space for Costa while Klich automatically moves into a forward position to give continuity to the attack.

 

Analysis Leeds Bielsa 23

 

Costa’s run ends with a pass to Klich and then to Ayling, sitting unmarked on the outside.

 

Analysis Leeds Bielsa 24

 

Once the ball is played wide, Costa joins the attack in the box.

 

Analysis Leeds Bielsa 25

 

Dallas attacks the space at the edge of the box and Klich moves to provide support.

 

Analysis Leeds Bielsa 26

 

The Pole ensures the attack continues by giving Dallas the opportunity to pass back.

 

In Bielsa’s system of constant rotation, the wing backs can also cause surprises by popping up in the centre of midfield and, without a marker, have two main functions: 1) to serve as support to wall in and overwhelm opponents (positional superiority over numerical) or 2) attack the area directly.  

 

Analysis Leeds Bielsa 27

 

Rodrigo and Harrison face a 2v3 while Dallas cuts inside.

 

Analysis Leeds Bielsa 28

 

Leeds overcomes the numerical disadvantage with the support of Dallas.

Analysis Leeds Bielsa 29

 

Harrison passes his marker and gets into a crossing position thanks to this one-two with Dallas.

 

Analysis Leeds Bielsa 31

 

Dallas causes a distraction on the inside, serving to pull the opposition towards him giving Klich the opportunity to play out Rodrigo on the wing.

 

Analysis Leeds Bielsa 32

 

2v1 created thanks to Rodrigo (midfield)  and Harrison (winger)

 

Analysis Leeds Bielsa 33

 

Leeds attacks with 4 players in the box, among which is Dallas.

 

From Inside to Out

 

Klich has become one of the most important elements in the Leeds team since the arrival of Bielsa. His vision and ability to filter passes, combined with the constant support he provides for his teammates and the ability to pop up on the wings when needed make him an important part of the structure.

 

One in every 3 crosses he makes is met by someone on his team. Being right- footed, he has a clear weakness when crossing from the left. His inward hooks are predictable and fail to generate successful attacks.

 

Although he is in his element when playing on the inside, he can cause problems for the opposition when he pops up on the wing.

 

Analysis Leeds Bielsa 34

 

When Rodrigo joins the triangle on the wing, Klich makes the diagonal run into space.

 

Analysis Leeds Bielsa 37

 

Klich and Ayling, positioned in Zone 18.

 

Analysis Leeds Bielsa 38

 

Klich breaks behind the wing back.

 

Analysis Leeds Bielsa 40

 

Klich positions himself on the wing, Ayling moves up to support Costa and Rodrigo switches to join the attack in the middle.

 

Analysis Leeds Bielsa 41

 

Klich receives wide, ready to release the cross into the danger zone.

 

Conclusion

 

Bielsa brought dynamism to Leeds with a series of automatic moves where functionality is prioritised over assigned player positions.

 

Here we have highlighted 12 set plays (based on a couple of matches) but, without a doubt, the variability shown by Leeds makes them one of the most unpredictable and dangerous teams to play against in the Premier League.

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