Leeds have faltered have an impressive start to the season
Marcelo Bielsa stopped short of using PowerPoint to explain himself, but it took him more than 20 uninterrupted minutes to explain why Leeds United’s style of football comes with great risk.
The Argentine, who used slides in his hour-long press meeting during his “Spygate” row last season, went into great detail to explain what he learned from 4-1 defeats by Leicester City and Crystal Palace before the international break.
“Our offensive game has sometimes consequences which causes us to suffer goals,” he said. “For example, if I was to tell you the two games in which we defended worst, it was in the two games in which we received the most praise. Against Manchester City was the game we defended least well, and against Liverpool in which we had plenty of defensive difficulties.”
Leeds have been the entertainers of the Premier League, with 31 goals coming in their matches. All of Bielsa’s midfielders are instructed to push forward when they get on the ball, which has left them open to the counter-attack, including defensive midfielder Kalvin Phillips, who is set to return to the squad for Sunday’s match against Arsenal after a shoulder injury.
“It is very easy to defend well if you decide not to attack,” Bielsa said. “Leeds is in the top three who create the most danger in the criteria that we analysed. I’m saying that we create danger, but when you create danger you need efficiency and accuracy.” Bielsa joked at the end of his tactical speech that his other option was to give a short answer without any detail.
His detailed response explained the different ways teams tend to concede goals. While the opponent has possession, they score through direct free-kicks, set-pieces including crosses, long balls and throw-ins. But he also explained how his team’s attacking leads to conceding goals. They try to build up from the back, which is risky. Bielsa’s team are also susceptible to the counter-attack. And they also concede when their pressing game is off.
“This is a cost linked to the style of play Leeds has,” Bielsa said. “So, if the style of play is valued then you have to accept the consequences which come with it.
“We wouldn’t be one of the three teams who create the most danger if we played long from our goalkeeper. Why are we then conceding these type of goals?
“Because in the Premier League we have 40 of the best forwards in the world and also because our defensive system depends a lot that we press well when a team builds up from the back.” Bielsa, as would be expected, has been through the 17 goals conceded and has studied their origins. He has discounted the four penalties conceded, as they were dubious calls from the referee in his eyes. There have also been four goals which he says could not be analysed for reasons such as being own goals.
Phillips’s return to the team will make Leeds a different proposition as he is the central figure in Bielsa’s team, setting the pace of the game with his forward passing from his deep position.
“He is a player with a big capacity to recover the ball,” said Bielsa. “He’s a midfielder who is able to find passes which are not normal for someone. To give an example, it’s difficult to find a defensive midfielder who can give a pass like Phillips gave Jack Harrison in the first game of the season against Liverpool. That kind of pass, an offensive midfielder is more likely to give to you. It’s very difficult to find it in a defensive midfielder.”