‘A man with new ideas is a madman, until his ideas triumph’. This quotation from El Loco perfectly sums up the journey of Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds United over the past two years. With a gruelling training regime, incessantly demanding style of play, a small squad, and an unwavering loyalty to his starting eleven, “Bielsa burnout” was common-speak during his time in the Championship. Frankly, you would have to be mad to take on one of the most competitive leagues in the world in the way that he did. But you soon learn that anyone who plays under Marcelo would happily run through a brick wall for the man. There is certainly something enigmatic and mercurial about Bielsa, someone who has won so little in his career and yet is held in the highest regard by his players and among some of the best managers in the game. After being treated to “Bielsa ball” for two seasons now, I fully understand why.
Bielsa teams are just as deadly on the counter attack as they are in possession, executing high pace transitions to devastating effect.
Bielsa’s brand of football typically comprises of a fast tempo with total domination of the ball and a frenetic high press to win it back if and when it is lost. Essentially, a Bielsa team will suffocate the life out of you when it has the ball. You will be left chasing shadows on one side of the pitch. Just when you feel the slightest hope of catching said shadows, the ball gets switched in an instant and the work begins all over again. Bielsa utilises overloads and tight triangles of one touch passes as well as creating space on the opposite flank for his more creative players to exploit in the blink of an eye. At times, I’m sure the opposition will think his teams have an extra man due to the unrelenting fitness levels of his players, allowing for such levels of movement. The Bielsa press can be terrifying. If a team does eventually win the ball back, his players come after you with speed and determination, hunting in packs, often forcing the ball back to the keeper. The relentless press which rightly elicits a rapturous noise from the crowd only fuels the hunt further.
Bielsa teams are just as deadly on the counter attack as they are in possession, executing high pace transitions to devastating effect…take a look for yourself.
However, it is not always a joy to watch. Personal experience has shown when opponents dig in with a low block, it becomes maddening to watch chance after chance go begging. Trying to break down this block when Plan B is just Plan A in disguise, the pressure mounts and the frustration worsens. But these moments are few and far between, and certainly worth enduring to experience the utmost heights of “Bielsa Ball”.
‘Don’t you know? Pump it up, the whites are going up!’
Ultimately, El Loco has taken a Leeds side that languished in mid-table obscurity and turned them into triumphant league champions by ten points. He has made a city fall in love with its team again. But now a bigger question is being asked of Marcelo Bielsa: can his brand of football, and this crop of players, cut it in the Premier League?
Matchday one saw Liverpool up first, arguably the toughest possible fixture of the season in a champions showdown at Anfield. Let’s be honest, with these two managers, this was never going to be a quiet affair. The seven-goal thriller saw both sides well and truly throw the notion of defending out the window. The game ended in a narrow 4-3 defeat for Leeds after Salah put away a second penalty to secure his hattrick and Liverpool’s first win of the campaign. Still, this was an electrifying start for the whites.
If you are not excited as a neutral to watch El Loco’s Leeds in the Premiership this season, then trust me, you should be. “Bielsa Ball” is here to entertain, and if that opening game away to the champions of England is anything to go by, it is going to be a hell of ride.