Marcelo Bielsa – Leeds 2020 Principles of Play

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The newly promoted managed a spectacular begining of the season starting with two result of 4-3 and winning the last roung against Sheffield United with 1-0.

The Argentinian manager has builded up a disciplined team, who interpret the phases of the game in their own style, being different in the way they express on the pitch, “El Loco” fingerprint being praised by english media and other EPL managers.

For me was like a “study case” and I want to present you what I saw in the first 45 minutes agains Fulham, at home, game won with 4-3.

Defensive Play

They started with a 1-4-1-4-1 but defensive they where a 1-5-4-1 with either CDM or a winger inside and forming a line of 5 in the majority of the moments.

Natural Offensive 1-4-1-4-1/ Defensive Akward 1-5-4-1
One CDM inside of CB

The average position was this. Very disciplined. With 23.Klich protecting the defensive line, wingers dropping back defensive and offensive fluid and 9.Bamford, the striker, being central for transitions and deep run behind, attacking the space inside rivals offensive.


With blue, Fulham. With black is Leeds. You can observe they have specific periods when they press and allow less passes from rivals. During 0-15 minutes medium pressure, from 30-45 they pressed with such an intensity. Also between 60-75 reaching a point of 21.0! Very impressive. I’ll remind you PPDA means number of passes allowed by a team against another. Such a number is bigger for a team, the intensity is high and passed allowed are less( for example 39.0)

The pressing intensity was so heavy! Almost double than Fulham Intensity

Defending inside forwards of Fulham was importand, 2.Ayling followed the winger and being replaced in his position by his winger Helder Costa, very disciplined and hardworker.

Excellent team work by right side of Leeds defence

The pressure applied was very simple, one of CM helped the striker. Striker droppend on no 6 and the CM pressed one CB of Fulham. If not, the CM left the lines and marked no 6, the striker blocking one CB as you can see. The decision was very important for wingers who should think if the must help or just wait and decide if the come inside or keep the position.

Forming a “5” defensive line was free flow for Bielsa man’s who managed like this to do it despite they received 3 goals. CB made a both anticipation-man mark play and they were substiuted or helped by wingers, CDM or fullbacks. Excellent team work.

CB Anticipation play/5-4-1

The last priciple observed was the man oriented marking in their own half, making also dead zone-active zone. Practically mixing Sacchi with old defending school. They were very agressive and trying to have superiority in every zone of their box and half inside and outside.

Offensive play

On the paper was a 1-4-1-4-1, but they changed the shape in build up. So, we can’t say it was a normal 1-4-3-3, just a 1-4-1-4-1 fluid with support from second line and third line.


The goalkeeper was very important for Bielsa, both restarting the game when Fulham blocked him and also launching direct balls switching the play direct to isolated winger.

Good footplay for Ilan Meslier, 20 years old
6m – long play

The second ball hunt was very important for Bielsa, not managing to have a lot of possesion as Guardiola has. He was more vertical and more oriented to acces the space or to have the second ball – pure englsh style. As you can see here, the CB founded Rodrigo with a pass and the striker already sprinting for having the ball and the winger to acces the space. And, the msot improtant, playing a3x3, equality of numbers, creating danger.

One CM of Leeds created the space for FB to advance with the ball at feet and attacking always the space in front of him then launching the striker on free space. The hunt to create free space and acces free space is A KEY FOR BIELSA! And his team did it quite well. Below, 3 examples of FREE SPACE CREATE AND HUNT!

15. Dallas – fullback overlapping and attacking the space behind opponent on his blind zone
CM asking the ball behind winger. Winger keeping his position (playing regaring your teammate intention to play)

The striker play was impressive, being in the same time a complete forward, a target man and a poacher. But the speciallity of the house was these kind of runs who killed Fulham defence.

Transition Negative

The transitions had two or maximum three principles, as you can see down. The main thing was to block the center, to delay the vertical play and then to drop back to re-form lines of defence.

Transition Positive

Also positive transition was interesting, observing one move of the fullbacks to after recovery of the ball they were sprinting inside-central, to create chaos in the defence of rivals and to add + 1 man to attack with a fast diagonal run inside of their center.

Set Pieces -Throw In

The set pieces were a strong point, they scored from corner, im not going to present it, but i’ll remain with this fantastic rotation at throw ins. Despite a 3×5 numerical, they won a lot of them and keept the possesions many times.

Chapeau, Mister Marcelo!

And thank you all for reading.

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