How Leeds United and Marcelo Bielsa can unlock the Manchester City machine at Elland Road

Jon Mackenzie runs All Stats Aren’t We, a Leeds United media channel that focuses on the tactical and statistical aspects of the game.

By Jon Mackenzie
Friday, 2nd October 2020, 4:46 pm
Updated Friday, 2nd October 2020, 4:52 pm
Manchester City were beaten by Leicester last weekend. (Getty)
Manchester City were beaten by Leicester last weekend. (Getty)

For fans of English football, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City need no introduction. In the last half decade, they have dominated the Premier League, even with Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool threatening their ascendancy in recent years.

This fixture offers another tough test for Marcelo Bielsa, who is often cited as an important mentor for the Manchester City manager.

For the most part, Guardiola’s time in England has been characterised by his famous 4-3-3 formation with two ‘free eights’, reminiscent of the two eights in Bielsa’s own 4-1-4-1 set-up.

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This season, though, no doubt through the influence of his new assistant, Juan Manuel Lillo, the Spaniard is trying out an iteration of a 4-2-3-1 formation.

Here are three aspects of Guardiola’s system to look out for on Saturday...

Shaky defensive transitions

Manchester City play a similar form of possession-based football to the one Leeds United play under Marcelo Bielsa. Fundamental to this approach is the aggressive high press that takes place in the event of a turnover.

By pushing up the field, you leave yourself open to counter attacks and so the press is designed to prevent the opponent from getting time on the ball to spring any threats.

In recent seasons, though, Guardiola’s City have struggled to avoid this happening. Last weekend, Leicester City sat deep and used the pace of Jamie Vardy and Harvey Barnes as an outlet. Keep an eye out for similar counter-attacking opportunities on Saturday.

The double pivot

In a bid to solidify his defensive transitions, Guardiola has experimented with the introduction of a double pivot – two deeper-lying defensive midfielders who sit in front of the back four.

With Fernandinho and Rodri, Guardiola has a pairing who can help in the build-up play but also offer defensive cover centrally or in behind the full-backs should they go marauding forwards. Expect to see one of the two dropping in as a makeshift full-back in attacking phases.

Forward woes

With both Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus out through injury, Pep Guardiola has been struggling to find a solution to the problem of who to play up top. Against Leicester, the Spaniard went with Raheem Sterling, before bringing on Liam Delap, a more traditional striker, later in the game.

After facing a front two against Sheffield United, both of whom were substituted during the game, the Leeds defence will be ready to be flexible whoever Guardiola chooses to field.