Leeds United – Bielsa Tactical Setup


It has been sixteen years since Leeds United last graced the Premier League and in the center of all their success, stands one man: Marcelo Bielsa. Bielsa was appointed as the manager 2 years ago and since then has not only transformed the team but has also instilled a new culture. High intense aggressive pressing with the vibrant attacking display, Leeds is now one of the toughest teams to beat. Their new success has earned Bielsa messiah status among the fans who are eternally in debt to him.

Since their promotion, they have already been tested against two of the best team in England; Liverpool and Manchester City. With two important wins and a draw under their belt, it begs an important question; how do they play?

Analyzing Leeds Attack

Leeds are bold enough to play from the back, key contributors being Kalvin Phillips who is pivotal to their build-up play, and Meslier who is a goalkeeper with good passing range.

Leeds player defending
Leeds build up

Both defenders (Cooper and Koch) get closed down by the opposition strikers while Phillips is marked too. This frees Dallas (outside the frame) the left-back who is often the outlet to progress the ball.

leeds midfield
Leeds progression

Dallas is a left-back but he has a significant advantage since he is right-footed which allows him to play an inward pass easily. Harrison plays a crucial role by pinning the opposition fullback, Phillips’ positioning is instrumental in providing support to Dallas. This causes the opposition midfield to shift to the right to close down the pass but Klich is tactically adept at playing between the lines. This transition is lightning quick and once the players have progressed, Bamford and the remaining attackers make forward runs behind the defense.

Leeds Attacking Play

Leeds are exceptional at combinational play to beat the opposition press. They use a blend of simple one-two passes and 3rd man runs to progress forward. The principle is simple: Pass and move while creating passing triangles with the teammate.

Combinational play
(Note- The yellow line corresponds to the player movement and the white line represents the pass)

Dallas initiates the play and advances ahead after the pass and Harrison returns the ball to Dallas who then links up with Hernandez. Keeping the above principle in mind, Harrison also moves up to collect the return pass from Hernandez. You can see the passing structure used to get past the Liverpool press. Leeds love to progress via the flanks and are experts at problem-solving allowing them to reach the final third very quickly

Attacking play
Long ball behind defense

Leeds don’t shy away from playing long balls to exploit space behind the defense, the prerequisite being that players occupy all the vertical channels between the opposition defense. This creates positional superiority in dangerous zones allowing them to create important changes.

Leeds Man Marking plan

Leeds employ strict man-marking principles during their defensive phase in an effort to force a turnover, this type of defending is heavily dependent on individual defensive ability. Bielsa plans intense training sessions for his players to be able to press heavily throughout 90 minutes all over the pitch.

leeds setup
Off the ball setup – Defensive structure

The general principle at Leeds is to have relatively one extra player in the last line for defensive security. It also means one less player upfront in the first pressing line. It can be seen that Bamford is responsible for marking 2 opposition players. . All players are responsible for aggressively marking an opposite player even if it compromises their position,. Costa and Struijk can be seen leaving their original positions to follow their man.

It is not possible for every player to win all duels in the match,. The system breaks down quickly when players lose individual battles so a failsafe mechanism must exist to alleviate these problems. Assume a player is outrun by his marker, then the failsafe kicks in and the nearest player rushes in. He dispossesses the opponent after shifting his marking responsibilities to another teammate. Remember the extra player at the back? He now offsets the numerical advantage that existed previously.

leeds defence
Defensive backup

For example, Pablo has just lost track of Henderson and is in a position to make a dangerous pass. The failsafe mechanism activates, Klick moves away from his marker to pressurize Henderson to prevent him from progressing forward after shifting his marking responsibilities onto Struijk (the extra defender).


Leeds United might be new additions to the league but are by no means an easy team to beat. They have already proven to be a formidable side after 4 games in the premier league. Next, they face Wolves who currently sit 15th at the table. This promises to be an interesting matchup as Bielsa’s men move closer to the top 4.

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