Leeds United media watch - Danny Murphy criticism reasonable enough but misses important point about Marcelo Bielsa

MAN WITH A PLAN - Marcelo Bielsa is often told he should have a Plan B, but the Leeds United boss has explained why that would undermine his philosophy. Pic: PAMAN WITH A PLAN - Marcelo Bielsa is often told he should have a Plan B, but the Leeds United boss has explained why that would undermine his philosophy. Pic: PA
MAN WITH A PLAN - Marcelo Bielsa is often told he should have a Plan B, but the Leeds United boss has explained why that would undermine his philosophy. Pic: PA
Marcelo Bielsa has often been told he should do things differently and it didn't take many Premier League games for the Plan B argument to crop up again.

In the Championship, even during last season's title-winning campaign, calls came for another way, a different approach, betraying a lack of understanding in some pundits that Bielsa already has two ways of playing. He has Plan A and he has Plan A, but done better.

Danny Murphy, on TalkSport, responded to Leeds' 4-1 defeat at Palace, the Whites' second drubbing by that scoreline in the space of week, with accusations of naivety. The fixture list threw up two games in quick succession against teams with genuine counter attacking excellence and Leeds were well beaten by both, albeit playing better against Palace.

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"I thought it was a very naive way to play against Palace," said the former Liverpool and Fulham man, who went on to add that Patrick Bamford's disallowed goal should have stood and could have changed things.

"But overall the amount of times Palace countered the Leeds press - Palace are set up to play that way, the last thing you want to do is go after them. I thought that was silly, they didn't learn the lesson from the Leicester game. Don't get me wrong, Leeds will win games playing that way, they are courageous and I do admire them. But you can't be a one-trick pony, you can't be. I've not managed, but I know if I set up a team tomorrow against Roy's team, I know how Roy works of course. Leeds can have spells in the game where they go after people but then they have to go, hold on, we're getting done a bit here let's try and adapt. That's where you need some leaders on the pitch and not just robots who do what the manager wants."

There's nothing unreasonable about Murphy's criticism of Leeds' inability to successfully press and contain Palace and, given that we don't yet know how successful Bielsaball is going to be in the top flight, it's not unfair to take issue with the idea of a one-size-fits-all approach to games.

The problem with what Murphy said revolves around his suggestion that players can take matters into their own hands and make changes in games and his intepretation of well drilled as subservient - whenever Leeds win the fact that the style of play is by now second nature is more often than not lauded as a key factor in their victory.

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He explained that when he played under Roy Hodgson at Fulham, there was freedom for the players on the pitch to make tactical switches if they felt it appropriate.

"Roy is a bit one-trick, he's quite defensive and builds a solid foundation to play but I know from playing under Roy I was allowed and we were allowed, if we wanted to in games, to change that, turn it round and say hold on, we're getting battered here, let's go and try something different," he said.

"I would trigger us to go and press for 10 minutes. It depends on the players you've got but you can't, that game, I paid the £15 to watch it, I knew what I was going to see and I saw it. "They kept doing it. Now Leeds did have some chances and have a goal chalked off that was a good goal, but he did [play into Roy's hands]."

Leeds' man to man marking system lives and dies on the players' understanding of exactly where they need to be and what they need to do to stop an opponent and win the ball as high up the pitch as possible. Anyone going off script or doing their own thing would likely cause the entire defensive structure to collapse and create huge problems, never mind find themselves quickly hooked from the pitch.

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Murphy's point, presumably, is that Hodgson gave his players that freedom to decide that the manager's tactics weren't working and to implement their own. But Bielsa's entire philosophy and the success he has had at Leeds has been built upon his ability to convince players that his style of play works. If the players are not convinced that it can and does work, they will not be able to give their all to make it work, and the style is so physically demanding that an enormous amount of discipline and willpower is required from the first whistle to the last.

Deciding, at any point, never mind so early in their Premier League season, that it is suddenly acceptable to change tack during games, would undermine everything he has said since his arrival at Thorp Arch.

He explained, in detail, a little over a year ago, why Leeds do not drop deeper and why a change in heart would weaken his team's belief in the way they have operated en route to top flight status.

"But if we don't press higher, we should drop deeper in the pitch," he said.

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"This process would take out minutes of possession for us. If you drop back, you give them the possession. After, they recover the ball, they are closer to our goal. It is necessary to compare the positives and negatives of pressing high. I prefer it, it doesn't mean it is correct. I prefer more possession, being closer to the opponents' goal and recovering the ball far from our goal. Recovering the ball close to the opponent's goal. They are all positives.

"We can find examples for both ways, for this reason I don't fall in love with my ideas because I know I can find examples for the opposite way I choose. But my job is to convince the players, it is difficult to convince with ideas you don't feel. I can understand it, I can value these ideas, I see our effective ideas, but there are other ideas that I love. Some managers achieve to make the team do something that maybe he doesn't like. I am not this kind of manager, but I know that it is a good thing for a manager to do something you don't like, to solve the problem in some matches. Convincing the players is difficult, if you say to one group always this, but not in this moment, the credibility, the confidence in what you're doing lessens."

Pundits don't have to agree, Bielsa wouldn't expect them to and the more 4-1 defeats Leeds sustain, the louder the calls for a Plan B will grow. But at some point you have to accept that this is Bielsa, this is Leeds and a different direction of travel is not on the agenda.