After returning to the top flight for the first time in exactly 16 years, Leeds United have enjoyed a fantastic start to life in the Premier League under Marcelo Bielsa. From their first game against the champions, they made it very evident that they would not sacrifice their style of play for any opponent; Bielsa’s side dominated possession and thrilled neutrals & fans alike with their attacking style of play, only to be denied late on & lose 4-3 due to a late penalty from the Premier Leagues current top scorer, Mo Salah.
Afterwards, Leeds have beaten newly promoted Fulham in another nail-biting 4-3 shootout, a sign of things to come. They have gone on to chalk up many wins because of their bravery and are far away from a relegation spat, looking to have secured safety so early, the same could not be said for their newly promoted counterparts.
The Marcelo Bielsa Effect
Leeds’s possession-based style of football is predicated upon their clever build-up play that begets numerical advantages and slick passing and combination play to create various chances, as well as an aggressive man-marking system that requires maximum physical output and pressing quick, high up the field from each of their outfield players to win the ball back quickly.
“While the opponent has the ball, the whole team presses, always trying to cut off the play as close as possible to the opponent’s goal. When we get, it we look to play with dynamism and create the spaces from improvisation”- Marcelo Bielsa.
Marcelo Bielsa is a strange/special character in the good sense often reffered to as a football “madman”. He is a hard-wired person, he demands everything to be perfect and is absolutely meticulous about every detail, which is one of the main reason for his success. He isn’t motivated by money, or material things but might be the most demanding coach in the world because of his passion for the sport.
He resigned after two days at Lazio because Lazio’s board didn’t pick up the players Marcelo Bielsa wanted and that alone will tell you all you need to know about his mindset. Bielsa then left Italy & also signed his recent contract with Leeds just one day before the new season had begun. It’s fair to say that many fans were uncertain about the upcoming campaign.
Heading into the final months of their first campaign returning to the Premier League, we have our answers. Using the same players that flourished in the Championship, such as Kalvin Phillips, Patrick Bamford and Luke Ayling, Leeds have more than held their own this season – and he has completed a master stroke by adding quality to the squad core by the signing of 24 year old Brazilian winger Raphinha.
A major signing for Marcelo Bielsa that has gained many plaudits and admirers alike is the 17 million euro acquisition of the Brazilian prospect, who has dazzled the opposition countless times with his silky skill and innovation. His step overs, feints, flair and creativity have really captured the imagination & according to him, it all comes naturally. He sat down in an exclusive interview with Sky Sports & spoke about their recent success.
“As we say in Brazil, it’s from the cradle,” he tells Sky Sports, speaking by video call in his native Portuguese. “It’s something you are born with, a God-given gift. God says, ‘this guy’s getting this gift and he’s going to make the most of what I’m giving him’“.
But what makes him special is his undeniable ability to provide substance to his game as equal as his bravery – his end product is good and that is most important for flair players as otherwise tricks and flair become pointless. He constantly is demanded to press and work tirelessly to win the ball back by Bielsa as his teammates are expected to as well – you have to be explosive in your energy levels and he is just that.
So it would come as no surprise that the man Raphinha labels ‘The Professor’, has opted to start him in every single Premier League game since his full debut. In fact – he is ranked among the top chance creator for Leeds as well, being in the top three. My prediction is that he will be leading the assist chart for them by seasons end.
“These days my position isn’t just about making things happen in attack, you also have to be very responsible in defence,” says Raphinha. “Ever since I started playing football I’ve always liked this part of the game, the intensity of running forward and tracking back.
“I think the style of play of the professor’s Leeds really suits my style of play. Thinking about what I do best – my speed and ability with the ball, it’s always important that a player is conscious that they must contribute as much in defence as they do in attack.”
“The best thing you can do with players who are so spontaneous is to let them be themselves,” said Marcelo Bielsa last month. Raphinha agrees.
“It’s really important to have a manager who allows you to do what you know, what you’ve already demonstrated you can do in the past. I believe that when a team signs you, you’ve been brought in to do what you were doing at your previous club.”
“Having a manager and team-mates that give you the freedom do your best, play your own game and show what you’re capable of is really important for the natural development of the player.”
It’s fair to say he has bought into the style of his manager completely and is bearing the fruits of their hard work. Even so, for an accomplished football double training sessions and meticulous planning can be tiresome, but he can attribute his rapid rise to the very same hard work being put in – with his manager labeling him as “special”.
If high quality players akin to this type of level can be integrated as seamlessly as this, Leeds look to be in an incredible position of envy – as the question remains to be answered what their actual ceiling is.
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Main Image Credits- Embed from Getty Images