Leeds United appointing the reputable Marcelo Bielsa would be a huge step up from previous head coach Paul Heckingbottom, but what style of play would the Argentine bring to Elland Road?
‘El Loco’ as the 62-year-old is known as, has a reputation across the globe for his ambitious tactics and innovative philosophy and both are very unique compared with most modern managers’ perception of the game.
Popular formations used in today’s game include 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 and more recently 3-5-2 or variations of the three at the back style, but Bielsa’s outlook on football is very different to this – so much so that widely renowned head coaches, who were also students of his, Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino both described him as ‘one of the world’s best’ coaches.
During his stints with French clubs Marseille, Lille and Spanish outfit Atheltic Bilboa, Bielsa utilised a 3-3-3-1 style of play to great effect, although it was interchangeable depending on the formation of the team his side were facing.
The best example of this formation’s success was when Athletic Bilboa went to Old Trafford and beat Manchester United 3-2 in the Europa League after Bielsa’s masterplan came up trumps.
If a team were playing with three attackers behind a lone centre forward then a four-man defence would be used as opposed to a three-man defence against two strikers, and like most managers Bielsa prefers his defenders to be comfortable with the ball at their feet.
When on the attack, there is a focus on quick transitions from defensive to offensive play with the three players in front of the back three acting as one holding midfielder and two inverted wing-backs.
This would allow Bielsa’s teams to focus on width using both the wingbacks as well as the attackers behind the lone forward, but would this work with Leeds?
Some players could excel in this system and as his performances last season proved, Adam Forshaw would be one of the ideal players to sit in front of the back three and turn defence into attack and although Samuel Sáiz had a disappointing end to the season, he would certainly thrive in his favoured free attacking role behind the striker.
However, most of United’s current defenders aren’t comfortable playing with the ball at their feet – with the exception of Luke Ayling – and this part of the squad will need to be bolstered if Leeds are to adapt to Bielsa’s philosophy.
The Whites certainly have a lot of dead wood to get rid of and although Madger Gomes’ transfer to France was a step in the right direction, it was but a small step as the likes of Felix Wiedwald, Vurnon Anita, Pawel Cibicki, Hadi Sacko, Eunan O’Kane and Jay-Roy Grot look likely to depart the Yorkshiremen.
Bielsa reportedly agreed a deal in principle with Leeds at the end of last week but there are still a few loose ends to tie up before the club can finalise the move.
Money won't be an issue for Marcelo Bielsa. Happy with the package Leeds are offering. But still negotiating over plans, infrastructure and the way he wants the club to function under him. #lufc
— Phil Hay (@PhilHayYEP) June 11, 2018
This appointment is taking longer than previous ones, but if Leeds can convince Bielsa to sign up for his first season in England then it would be one of the biggest managerial coups in the club’s recent history.