Shortly before the start of Leeds United’s first away game of the season, Marcelo Bielsa was pictured with a tactics sheet in his hand. It set out Derby County’s expected line-up and potential substitutes in each position - with players identified by shirt numbers rather than names.
When it came to analysing Sheffield Wednesday before tomorrow’s trip to Hillsborough, the same system applied. Bielsa’s analysis had alerted him to the influence of Steven Fletcher, Fernando Forestieri, Adam Reach and others but it was the squad numbers which stuck in his head rather than the faces.
Video analysis is integral to Bielsa’s coaching, so much so that Gjanni Alioski was reluctant to give too much away when asked yesterday to explain how United’s head coach outlines his plans pre and post-match. Bielsa has admitted that the amount of analysis available to him borders on excessive - “we have at our disposal more data than what we can work on,” he said - but his breakdown of Wednesday’s attacking resources told a story about the time spent reviewing their previous matches.
Bielsa, who is new to English football this season, was asked at his weekly press conference to remark on Wednesday’s strengths. “They have many offensive players with different features,” he replied. “They’ve played all of them.
“I’m going to give you the numbers: number nine and number 17 in the axis. Forty five, 19, number 37 and number 20. They have many. They could combine together in different ways and they could play in different positions. We have to adapt to how they play and how they are positioned in the field. But our defensive line is efficient enough to face this team.”
Fletcher wears the number nine shirt at Hillsborough and Atdhe Nuhiu, the Kosovan who scored the goals in Wednesday’s win at Elland Road last season, wears number 17. Forty five is Forestieri, 19 is Marco Matias, and 20 is Adam Reach. Bielsa also highlighted young Scottish forward Fraser Preston, Wednesday’s number 37 who made his club debut last month.
There are others in Jos Luhukay’s squad with the ability to hurt Leeds - midfielder Barry Bannan not least - but Bielsa’s opposition analysis gave him with a clear idea of what his defensive line would be facing at Hillsborough. It is part of the battle though, in Bielsa’s eye, by no means all of it.
“At the end of the day head coaches give value to the data which confirms what we saw during a game,” he said last week. “We give importance to the data that strengthens the conclusions we built during games.
"It's good to trust what you see with your own eyes even if it is important to recognise when you make mistakes.”