Marcelo Bielsa: ‘El Loco’ football style



Marcelo Bielsa is coaching Leeds

Marcelo Bielsa’s coaching principles have been highly influential in modern soccer, and his time at Leeds United provides a great case study for understanding his game style and tactics. One of the key elements that Bielsa brought to Leeds was a focus on attacking constantly and pressing aggressively when the team lost possession. This attacking philosophy was based on the idea of attacking the back of the next defensive line and creating imbalances in the opponent’s defense to obtain an advantage in finishing the actions.

Marcelo Bielsa left Leeds United after 4 years, where he managed to bring the club back to Premier League and play some very attractive football. In his final games, though, their performance had decreased and the board finally took the decision of replacing him with Jesse Marsch. In this analysis, we will focus on all the things that Bielsa brought to Leeds in terms of game style and principles.

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Starting with the attack phase, during his time at Leeds, Bielsa insisted a lot in his players attacking constantly the back of the next defensive line, in order to get positional advantages and help the team progress. We can see this both with holding midfielders at the back of the strikers line and with advanced midfielders and strikers attacking the pockets.

1. Attack back a

1. Attack back b

Continuing with the attacking phase, Leeds United made use of wall-passes and constant runs to create space for teammates. As we can see in this sequence, Stuart Dallas is making a run to attract three defenders and free the central space in front of the box for Raphinha to cut in and use his dominant leg (left) to finish the action and score a goal. These principles have often repeated during the time Bielsa has been coaching Leeds, allowing them to create unbalances in the opponent’s defense and obtain advantage to finish the actions.

5. Attacking runs

5. Attacking runs b

Marcelo Bielsa is a coach who likes to dominate games through ball possession. This is why, when Leeds lost the ball, players activated fast, pressed aggressively the ball possessor and ensured the passing lines near the possessor were blocked. This concept, known as counter-pressing, is very important in Bielsa’s philosophy and has been applied with high success during his stay at Leeds and previously with other team he managed. In the images below, we can see how James (#20) and Forshaw (#4) press Bruno Fernandes (#18), not allowing him to turn or to pass to any teammate. This allows them to recover the ball quickly and score.

Counterpressing is one of the most characteristic features of Bielsa's game model

2. Counterpressing

Continuing with the defensive part, there are two key concepts for Marcelo Bielsa in this phase: individual markings and defending the wall-passes. Starting with the first one, it has been a distinctive characteristic of Bielsa’s teams throughout all his career. Players are given very specific order to follow their opponent all the pitch. This allows very aggressive defending when an opponent player receives the ball, as he will always have a defender behind him, not allowing him to turn.

The most iconic part of Bielsa's philosophy is his man-marking across all the pitch. 'El Loco' assigns individual marking to his players, who must follow their opponent

3. Individual marking

Linked to the previous concept, in Bielsa’s game model it is of vital importance how their players defend the wall-passes. The reason is that when pressing man-to-man, if one of the players loses their mark, an unbalance is created immediately in the defending team which could easily lead into a clear chance. This is why Bielsa has studied during years how to teach his players the best way of defending the wall-pass (in the video you can see a training drill he used during his time as a national coach of Chile) and his players have a very clear idea on what to do in these situations: follow the player and not the ball.

4. Defend wall a

4. Defend wall b

4. Defend wall c

For coaches looking for soccer coaching education, understanding Bielsa’s principles can provide valuable insights into creating a successful game style and tactics. Bielsa’s emphasis on attacking, ball possession, and counter-pressing can help coaches build an attacking philosophy that creates unbalances in the opponent’s defense. Furthermore, understanding the importance of individual markings and defending wall-passes can help coaches build a solid defensive structure that prevents the opposing team from getting a clear chance.

In conclusion, Marcelo Bielsa’s time at Leeds United showcased his game style and coaching principles, which have been highly influential in modern soccer. His emphasis on attacking, ball possession, and counter-pressing can provide valuable insights for coaches looking to create a successful game style and tactics. Furthermore, his focus on individual markings and defending wall-passes can help coaches build a solid defensive structure that prevents the opposing team from creating a clear chance.


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