MARTIN KEOWN: Leeds are like the enigma code… hard to decipher! It is the result of a masterplan designed to confuse by Marcelo Bielsa
- Leeds have scored 30 goals and conceded the same amount in the league so far
- Leeds players can play in a number of different positions to confuse opponents
- Marcelo Bielsa’s side travel to Tottenham on Saturday for the lunchtime kick-off
- Spurs were top a month ago but haven’t won any of their last four league games
Expect the unexpected. That was the key takeaway from Leeds United’s opening two games of the season — a 4-3 loss at Liverpool followed by a 4-3 win at home to Fulham.
Sixteen matches in, we still don’t know what to expect from Marcelo Bielsa’s side. The only guarantee is entertainment. Games featuring Leeds have seen 60 goals — more than any other Premier League club — with the Yorkshire side scoring 30 and conceding 30.
I’ve enjoyed sitting down to analyse Bielsa’s games. It’s as fascinating as it is challenging.
Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds side have been the great entertainers in the Premier League this season
Opposition managers almost need the footballing equivalent of the Enigma machine to crack his code. They go into games not knowing what to expect.
Even Pep Guardiola admitted after Manchester City’s 1-1 draw with Leeds in October that he needed time to grasp what had just happened.
All of this is no accident but the result of a masterplan designed to confuse by Bielsa.
At West Bromwich, Leeds shaped up as if starting with a back three. Bielsa had used a three at Burnley to great effect in their last outing, a 1-0 win which involved Kalvin Phillips being placed between the centre backs.
Kalvin Phillips (right) played between Leeds centre backs during their 1-0 win over Burnley
Sam Allardyce and his analysts saw this at the start of their match and thought that’s what they were up against — but it was a smokescreen. Leeds were using a back four, which West Brom failed to counteract.
Nothing is conventional with Leeds. Even the numbers on their backs are irregular. When was the last time you saw a No 10 playing left back? Yet Ezgjan Alioski is just that. It makes it more difficult for opponents to work out the positions of Leeds’ players. The only conventional ones are No 1 — goalkeeper Illan Meslier — and No 9 — Patrick Bamford, the intelligent target-man who stays high up the pitch and central.
Bielsa, the coach who was caught spying on Derby County in the Championship, is the master of disguise. He has players who can perform in multiple positions, adding to the confusion, and it is evident how well this team take on board their manager’s messages.
Each man is so highly energised, it’s as if Bielsa has his players plugged into the electric grid. They executed his plans to near-perfection in the first half at West Brom on Tuesday.
Bielsa’s side were flawless in their 5-0 thrashing of West Brom at the Hawthorns on Tuesday
From goal-kicks, Allardyce’s team looked long towards the right wing and Jack Harrison, the Leeds left winger, was dropping back alongside the central defenders to compete for the ball.
I’ve never seen that before. It highlighted Bielsa’s attention to detail and emphasised the importance of wanting to win that long ball to the Leeds boss.
There was also special attention for West Brom’s most dangerous players, wingers Grady Diangana and Callum Robinson. Leeds’ full backs were virtually man-marking those two.
Even if Diangana went across from the left side of the pitch to the right to be the extra man for a throw-in, for example, Stuart Dallas would go with him.
Stuart Dallas (right) worked hard to nullify the threat of West Brom winger Grady Diangana
If West Brom tried to break into any space left by Dallas, Ayling — because of his history as a full back — was almost delighted to run to provide cover and cope with any one-v-one situations.
Leeds left back Alioski was doing the same job as Dallas on the other side. Harrison was happy to double up as a full back when his team-mate was pulled out of position marking his man.
Dallas and Alioski knew when they should and shouldn’t follow their men. Bielsa left that decision to his players. It was a system with so many moving parts, but they understood their roles and responsibilities perfectly.
I see six key players who understand Bielsa’s code the best in Ayling, Dallas, Phillips, Harrison, Mateusz Klich and Bamford.
Polish international midfielder Mateusz Klich is an integral part of Bielsa’s Leeds side
Klich’s movement is excellent. When building an attack, Rodrigo will drop deep to receive the ball and Klich will burst forward into the space he’s left behind, while Harrison will run inside as another central option at the same time. Everyone is on the move in Bielsa’s team, and opponents are left in a spin because of it.
Raphinha comes in on to his left foot from the right wing, leaving space for full back Dallas to break down the right.
Harrison on the left wing is excellent with both feet, as he showed with his outstanding goal against West Brom. He cut inside and dribbled using his right foot, exchanged a one-two with Bamford, turned his man, then found the top corner using his left foot.
The level of detail to which Bielsa works is outstanding. But this system, though still improving, is not flawless — as seen in that 6-2 defeat by Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Jose Mourinho (left) and Joao Sacramento need a win to get Tottenham’s season back on track
Jose Mourinho and his assistant Joao Sacramento will have been trying to work out what’s in store for them today.
If Bielsa’s players fly forward in numbers, Tottenham could hurt them on the counter-attack. Harry Kane and Son Heung-min love it when opponents give them space to play with, and Spurs have shown they don’t mind a smash-and-grab approach.
Tottenham, having been top of the table a month ago, have not won any of their last four league games. Sitting back worked to good effect earlier in the season, when Mourinho was praising his players. So it was somewhat of a contradiction to hear the Spurs manager claim, after their 1-1 draw at Wolves, that his players had not done as they were told and were wrong in sitting deep to try to defend their 1-0 lead. Clearly Mourinho wants to find a balance and feels the players didn’t offer that against Wolves.
Attacking duo Harry Kane and Heung-min Son will be a threat for Tottenham on the break
Bielsa will have been producing plans for that Tottenham counter which has caused so many sides problems this season.
Mourinho’s trophy haul is far greater than his counterpart’s, though the Argentine has just finished third in the Best Men’s Coach category at FIFA’s awards.
One of the reasons Bielsa has been recognised is because he pushes the tactical boundaries to the limit and is respected around the world for his innovation.
Mourinho, the self-proclaimed Special One, will be determined to show that he can see through all the smoke and mirrors and collect three points against Bielsa’s Leeds this lunchtime.
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