Leeds are entertaining us but it'll be infuriating Bielsa

Played two, scored seven, conceded seven… but while Leeds United’s entertainers are evoking memories of Ossie Ardiles’ gung-ho Tottenham team, Marcelo Bielsa (who is so controlling he even looks after the players’ car park!) will be FURIOUS

  • Leeds have returned to the Premier League with back-to-back 4-3 scorelines
  • They won plenty of plaudits for being true to themselves in defeat at Liverpool
  • But question marks over their defence were raised during win over Fulham
  • Marcelo Bielsa expressed concern about lapses and mistakes at the back
  • At the moment, there are echoes of Ossie Ardiles’ Tottenham team in 1994-95
  • Bielsa has his philosophy but is pragmatic enough to make defensive changes 

The Premier League has always cherished the great entertainers. Doubly so when they’re interlopers just up from the division below determined to give the established clubs one in the eye.

But as much as every neutral wants Leeds United – two games, three points, seven scored, seven conceded – to be involved in 4-3 thrillers each weekend, it just isn’t sustainable.

Marcelo Bielsa, already twitchy about the number of goals his team are shipping, wouldn’t allow it, for one thing.

There were two sides to Leeds United as they beat Fulham 4-3 on Saturday – the free-flowing attacking side that has scored seven times in their first two Premier League games

Then there is the porous defence that was bullied by Aleksandar Mitrovic and has now conceded seven goals in those same two matches

The meticulous Marcelo Bielsa will be furious with the defensive weaknesses exposed 

This is a man who craves control and attention to detail. Everything about his team is meticulously planned. Right the way down to where the players park in the car park, according to L’Equipe.  

His side were excellent against Liverpool on the first weekend, refusing to bow before the champions but let themselves down through naivety and indiscipline in defence.

They were swashbuckling in attack against Fulham, racing into a commanding 4-1 lead before being made to sweat after conceding twice.

As Bielsa fretted about his defenders failing to contain Aleksandar Mitrovic – ‘we could not cope with the Fulham No 9’ – it was easy to forget Leeds had the Championship’s best defence last season.

A manager as meticulous as Bielsa will have been infuriated by these lapses at the back. ‘We are worried about that,’ he admitted post-match and his tone suggested a week of intense defensive drills in training.

Mitrovic wins a header against Robin Koch, who has struggled so far in English football

Leeds may be entertaining but they need to figure out how to shore up their defence

Having conceded two penalties in two games, it’s clear Robin Koch – a £13million summer signing to replace Ben White, who stayed at Brighton after an excellent season on loan – needs time to get up to speed.

Leeds have a particularly aggressive style of defending, in as much as they press up as a team to win the ball back as quickly as possible. According to EFL Analysis, they allowed a PPDA (Passes Allowed Per Defensive Action – a measure of how intensely a team press) of 5.86 per match, the lowest in the Championship last year. 

So far this season they have the second worst record in terms of expected Goals Allowed, behind West Brom. Is that sustainable against a consistently higher standard of player in the Premier League, or will he have to adjust?

Bielsa learned many lessons from the season before as Leeds won promotion as champions

Bielsa has shown that his obsessive nature doesn’t make him resistant to change; indeed quite the opposite. His methods can be unorthodox, he may have a hint of madness, but not many measure up to Bielsa when it comes to coaching faults out of players.

Kalvin Phillips, Mateusz Klich and Patrick Bamford are just a few who have improved thanks to Bielsa.

But last season’s success was built on a solid defensive foundation and that in turn came from Bielsa learning lessons from the season before.

The Yorkshire side had the best defence in the Championship as they finished in first place

They fell agonisingly short of promotion in 2018-19 because of deficiencies at the back, collapsing to concede four at home to Derby County in the play-offs.

Bielsa certainly won’t want a repeat of that, nor the fate of another Argentine who adopted a gung-ho approach to Premier League football a generation ago.

Osvaldo ‘Ossie’ Ardiles has spoken of his respect for Bielsa and the influence he has had on countless managers around the world.

There are certainly parallels between Bielsa’s Leeds and the gung-ho Tottenham side under Ossie Ardiles in the mid-1990s

‘Bielsa is the Argentine who has the most charisma in football,’ Ardiles said. ‘They call him El Loco. But it’s not like he’s crazy, he’s loco about football. He’s obsessive.’

The way Bielsa’s Leeds have started the season has echoes of Ardiles and his Tottenham team of the 1994-95 campaign.

Ardiles was a legend at White Hart Lane, of course, but his first season as manager didn’t live up to the fans’ giddy expectations.

They struggled to score goals when main striker Teddy Sheringham was out injured and were far too flaky at the back, limping to an eventual finish of 15th.

In the summer of 1994, Ardiles thought ‘to hell with it’ and decided to really put his own stamp on the Tottenham team.

Dispensing with the club’s core of reliable pros, Ardiles signed prolific German striker Jurgen Klinsmann from Monaco and a Romanian pair who’d shone at the 1994 World Cup – Ilie Dumitrescu and Gheorghe Popescu.

Soon, Ardiles was fielding the ‘Famous Five’ with young talents Darren Anderton and Nicky Barmby partnering Sheringham, Klinsmann and Dumitrescu in an absurdly attack-minded team.

Spurs chairman Alan Sugar welcomes club legend Ardiles back as manager in 1993

The manager’s faith in what was effectively a 4-1-5 formation was touching, a throwback to football’s more simpler times.

‘To be perfectly honest, I believed that those five people upfront – or, to put it more correctly, five attacking players – could play in the same team,’ Ardiles later said.

‘I was inspired by the Brazil team from 1970 with Pele, Rivelino, Tostao and all these great, great players. They had five attacking players.’

And in another echo of Leeds today, they won their first league game of the season 4-3, away to Sheffield Wednesday. It was described in the press as a ‘breathtaking exhibition of football.’

Teddy Sheringham (left), Jurgen Klinsmann (centre) and Nick Barmby celebrate a Spurs goal

But it didn’t take long for Ardiles’ philosophy to catch up with Spurs or for opponents to work out their over-worked back line could be easily exploited.

They conceded 15 goals in their opening seven games before a 5-2 hammering by Manchester City led to chairman Alan Sugar saying ‘you’re fired’ to Ardiles in early November. Like many things, it was fun while it lasted.

Bielsa has his way of doing things but, unlike Ardiles, he will understand a certain degree of pragmatism will be necessary to make Leeds less porous in defence.

As we begin the new season in empty stadiums, Leeds have offered us made-for-TV entertainment. Sadly, it’s unlikely to last. 

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