Nathan Jones reveals how Stoke City outwitted Marcelo Bielsa and Leeds United

Marcelo Bielsa let the watching world into his inner sanctum this week with an extraordinary display of his pre-match scouting techniques and one part of that analysis caught the attention of Stoke City manager Nathan Jones.

Sunday, 20th January 2019, 9:27 am
Updated Sunday, 20th January 2019, 9:34 am
Stoke City head coach Nathan Jones.

Bielsa’s attempt to combat criticism of his revelation that he has was sending staff from Leeds to watch every Championship team train involved an explanation about the lengths he had gone to before Saturday’s match away at Stoke.

Jones was appointed as Stoke’s new manager last week, replacing Gary Rowett and leaving Bielsa in the dark about how exactly City would play.

The Argentinian’s reaction, as he revealed during a 66-minute presentation at Thorp Arch on Wednesday, was to research all 26 matches which Jones had overseen with Luton Town, the club who Stoke took him from.

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Stoke City head coach Nathan Jones.

That admission, however, was noted by Jones who deliberately broke from his preferred system for Leeds’ visit to the Bet365 Stadium and inflicted a 2-1 defeat on United with a formation built around a three-man defence and wing-backs.

Stoke met Leeds four days after playing Shrewsbury Town in the FA Cup and Jones revealed that he only began implementing his new system on Friday but the change in tack went unregistered at Leeds after Bielsa called a halt to his policy of sending scouts to covertly watch the opposition train.

“It’s been well publicised,” Jones said after full-time. “Marcelo has watched 26 Luton games and he’s watched two Stoke games so he’s well drilled on what our usual formation is. We thought we may have to give him a surprise.

“If they’re that well drilled on us then they had plenty of time to work on it and they know what they’re doing so it would have been a difficult afternoon. With the threats they’ve got, to give us the best chance to win we felt we needed to be tactically right at. I thought we were.

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Jones, however, was complimentary about Bielsa’s side after condemning Leeds to a sixth defeat of the season.

“Let’s give Leeds credit,” he said. “They’re the best side in the league, and they are the best side in the league. You don’t be top of the league if you’re not but they actually are.

“We knew we had to be tactically right because they can hurt you and they get off to really quick starts but I thought we had the better chances first half. They had more possession than us but he (Bielsa) has had pre-season and six months to get them to that level. I’ve had seven days. We’ll get to that level.”

Bielsa was asked afterwards if Leeds had suffered at the Bet365 Stadium on the basis of his inability to watch Stoke train beforehand.

United’s boss abandoned that tactic following a complaint from Derby County over the appearance of a United staff member outside their training ground. Both the EFL and the Football Association are investigating the incident.

But Bielsa said: “We can’t say that we ignored the features of the opponent. We just didn’t take advantage of the opportunities we had in this game.

“During the whole game, (Luke) Ayling had the ball easily, (Adam) Forshaw could move the ball easily too, Pablo (Hernandez) received many balls in the last part of the pitch. Jack Clarke, Jack Harrison and Gjanni Alioski had many balls. Harrison in the 15 minutes before being replaced had five balls where he was one-v-one.

“Because you asked the question I’m answering, maybe the analysis of the game I’m making is not the right one. But our goal is to have good balls to attack with because normally we hurt the opponent. Today we didn’t hurt the opponent.”