Pragmatism versus organised chaos? Burnley prepare to take on Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United
He has been described as an innovator, but also a throwback.
Argentine Marcelo Bielsa, known as “El Loco”, led his country at the 2002 World Cup, and Chile in 2010, he has managed clubs in Spain, France and Italy, won Olympic gold with Argentina in 2004 and took Athletic Bilbao team to the Europa League final in 2013, bamboozling Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson along the way.
And he is hailed by Pep Guardiola, Mauricio Pochettino and Diego Simeone as a huge influence.
On Sunday, he will come face to face with Sean Dyche and Burnley at Elland Road.
Many will see it as a clash of pragmatism versus organised chaos, fluidity versus direct football.
Bielsa favours a 4-1-4-1 formation at Leeds, a modified version of his preferred 3-3-1-3 formation, while Dyche essentially goes with 4-4-2, or a variation of.
“El Loco”’s players are encouraged to be constantly moving to find space to receive a pass, while Dyche’s side play from their well-organised framework.
Bielsa is not a huge fan of long balls, preferring quick passes to destabilise the opponent’s defence, using the width of the pitch to draw teams out, while Dyche wants his players to hit the front two early and often, stretching teams in behind.
Where they are similar, Leeds often win the ball in the opposition half, as do Burnley, and both are effective on the counter from within their own half, as the Clarets showed to good effect against Wolves for Ashley Barnes’ opening goal.
Leeds have been described as a high-tempo counter-attacking side, with all 10 outfield players providing the pressing, which is man to man, and doesn’t focus on cutting passing lanes, while Burnley are often a mix of pressing and cutting off passing routes.
But Burnley will draw encouragement from seeing Leeds struggle against low blocks, unable to create overloads, winning 1-0 against Sheffield United and losing 1-0 to Wolves.
And they have conceded more goals from set plays, where Burnley are so strong, than any other side in the Premier League so far.
Dyche is a student of the game, well versed in the shapes and systems which have come in and out of fashion in football, and while Leeds have been a breath of fresh air to many in the Premier League, he feels the biggest innovations in the modern game come from pushing the small margins, analysis, and players’ increased fitness levels and physicality.
He said: “I’m not going to over-question what he (Bielsa) does, that’s for sure, every manager has their way of working.
”There is sometimes a lot of noise around different stories in football, about the right way to play, and new systems and formations, but if you look down the history of the game, most systems have been tried, but the details are changing, the emphasis on detail, analytics, the small margins get more important every season.
“I think that’s what’s changing in the game, other than the obvious, the physicality, the mental side, the prep and recovery side, the physical thing has been a massive shift over the years.
“Often the tactical idea has been looked at, used, remodelled, repackaged, many times through history.
“Colin Calderwood was saying to me, about the terminology used now, laughing at the false nine...I was at Nottingham Forest in 1987 and Nigel Clough was coming off the front into a false nine, trust me, they just didn’t call it that then.
“It’s like a revolution when the centre forward comes off the front and plays in a 4-4-1-1, that was happening in 1987 and probably before that.
“Peter Davenport stretching the pitch, while Lee Chapman played strong, for a team like Forest who played to feet, it needed someone up there to get hold of the ball.
“A lot of these things have been around a long time, and I’m not doing it down, there’s been a lot of innovation in football, I’m just saying there’s been a lot of these things tried before, different systems, variations, ways of working.
“The ones that usually stuck are the successful ones.”
Bielsa has certainly been successful at Leeds, delivering Premier League football for the first time since 2004, and they look a good bet to retain that status.
But there has been much debate as to whether they have a need for more balance, to tighten things up in certain games, having lost 6-2 at Manchester United at the weekend, going 2-0 down within three minutes.
Bielsa’s side played as if it was 0-0 throughout, which many found refreshing, but others found bemusing.
Dyche said: “I am sure whatever style they are choosing to play, I am sure the manager is well aware there has to be results.
“He sees his and the team's way of doing things as the most effective way of getting results. Most managers do think like that.
“The game has changed in that some managers I speak to and have spoken to look at it differently, the way they play is sometimes nearly as important as getting results. I have always found that a peculiar one personally, because we are in a results business.
“But every manager will have a view on that.
“I am pretty sure that Bielsa is not just thinking it is about style, he will be well versed in the game to know that whatever style it is you have to find results.
“So far they have found some good ones, some indifferent ones and some tough ones.
“We have to get on the right side of that and continue the work that we are putting in.
“Whatever style they choose to play, we will have to go against that, deal with it defensively and open it up in attack. That is no different to any other game. The focus will be on us and how we can go there and achieve what we want to achieve.”