Revealed! The subtle Bielsa change that nearly paid huge dividends for Leeds v Leicester

Marcelo Bielsa, Leeds United manager (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)Marcelo Bielsa, Leeds United manager (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Marcelo Bielsa, Leeds United manager (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
It's not very often that Leeds United find themselves shell-shocked.

Marcelo Bielsa’s signature brand of relentless, cut and thrust attacking play generally means that it’s the Whites who dish out the punishment early doors, and their opponents who find themselves scrambling for a foothold in most match-ups.

At Elland Road on Monday night, however, Leicester City came flying out of the blocks, and gave the hosts a sizeable dose of their own medicine.

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Two goals down within 21 minutes, Bielsa found himself in relatively unfamiliar territory from a tactical standpoint, with the Foxes actively looking to sit in, absorb pressure, and hit Leeds on the break.

It was a far cry from the gung ho approach that other top Premier League sides such as Liverpool and Manchester City have employed against the Whites already this season, and in the first half in particular, it looked to pose a conundrum that the Yorkshire club were struggling to solve.

Leeds still had a 64.93% majority of possession before the interval – around 4% more than their first half average so far this season – and they even managed to play around 75 passes more than they have in the opening 45 minutes of any other Premier League game up to this point.

But for all of their time on the ball, the Whites lacked any real cutting edge.

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Granted, Patrick Bamford had a couple of gilded opportunities – and given his recent purple patch in front of goal will probably feel that he should have found the back of the net at least once – but Leeds were limited to just three shots on goal all half.

To contextualise that tally, Leicester managed seven attempts despite having nearly 30% less of the ball.

It was little wonder, therefore, that the hosts clocked up a total xG of 0.64 in the first half on Monday night – 0.23 lower than their average since returning to the Premier League.

Bielsa being Bielsa, he was quick to identify the systematic flaw in the way that his side were set-up, and equally willing to accept some of the responsibility for their slow start to the game.

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Speaking after the final whistle, the manager said: “I didn't distribute the players correctly on the field. It was difficult for us to win the ball back. This caused us to defend poorly.

“In the first 30 minutes we didn't have the ball to give away, we allowed them to play out very easily and we couldn't get the ball back.

"What I explained is that I distributed the players wrongly in the first half. In the second half I corrected this error. You have to compare the two distributions."

The boss’ response to a sluggish opening was to make a significant change at half time, introducing the ever-lively Ian Poveda for Jamie Shackleton.

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Subsequently, Jack Harrison came inside, with Helder Costa switching flanks and Poveda taking up a berth wide on the right.

With both Harrison and Costa generally drifting out towards the left flank, and with Stuart Dallas’ usual attacking intent, it allowed the Whites to overload the right-hand side of the Leicester defence on more than one occasion, while also nullifying the Foxes’ own threat out wide.

It’s no coincidence that Dallas’ 48th minute strike, as bizarre as it was, came from a delivery out on the left wing.

The other noticeable byproduct of Bielsa’s tinkering was the fluidity that it brought to Leeds’ play in the final third.

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Harrison and Costa switched positions regularly, while the extra attacking player allowed the Whites to get another body up in support of Patrick Bamford more regularly.

When Tyler Roberts came on for a somewhat disgruntled Pablo Hernandez with a little over 20 minutes to go, it was clear that Bielsa was looking to up the ante further by introducing another versatile forward presence who could naturally bridge the gap between Bamford and the midfield.

The shift in shape was also complimented by a greater level of directness.

Despite having nearly 6% more of the ball than they did in the first half, Leeds made 66 fewer passes after the break, and averaged 0.88 fewer passes per phase of possession.

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Bielsa’s men were also much more willing to try their luck from further out.

In the first half, the average distance from which the Whites had their efforts on goal was 9.64 yards. In the second half, that range increased to 21.82 yards.

Likewise, Leeds played a greater percentage of long passes as the game went on.

Clearly, Bielsa’s response to going behind was to hit Leicester harder and faster, and for a while it looked as if their promising flurry of pressure after the restart might pay dividends.

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Dallas struck early enough to give his side realistic hope of a comeback, and with seven shots in the second half compared to the three they had before the interval, this was certainly a more purposeful and incisive Leeds showing.

Jamie Vardy’s 76th minute goal understandably took the wind out of the Whites’ sails a little, but in spite of the one-sided scoreline, there were positives to be taken from their second half performance.

Even in difficult situations it’s apparent that Bielsa is willing trust in some variation or other of the thunderous attacking style that has brought his side this far, and while it wasn’t enough to get anything out of Monday’s encounter, if his players continue to respond to his instructions as well as they did last night, there aren’t many teams in the Premier League who will be able to resist them as effectively as Leicester did.

That being said, Leeds gave themselves a mountain to climb from the outset against the Foxes, and it is imperative that they start brighter and faster when they make the trip to Crystal Palace on Saturday.