Home Sports KEOWN TALKS TACTICS: Bielsa's obsession with man-marking is shooting lowly Leeds in the foot

KEOWN TALKS TACTICS: Bielsa's obsession with man-marking is shooting lowly Leeds in the foot

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KEOWN TALKS TACTICS: Marcelo Bielsa’s obsession with man-marking is is shooting lowly Leeds in the foot… Liverpool and Manchester United both exploited their weakest link

  • Man United led their Leeds markers on a merry dance around Elland Road
  • Centre back Victor Lindelof exploited the space to set up Bruno Fernandes
  • Liverpool defender Joel Matip broke forward and scored in the rout of Leeds


Leeds’ unwavering man-to-man system is doing more harm than good right now. Just 44 seconds into their match with Manchester United at Elland Road, you could see the visitors toying with their opponents’ obsession with man-marking.

Harry Maguire was taking a free-kick in his own half and the 10 seconds that followed set the tone for the rest of Sunday’s game. Cristiano Ronaldo came running deep and Diego Llorente followed him all the way.

If Ronaldo had kept running all the way to his own goalkeeper, I have the feeling Llorente would have gone with him. Next, Bruno Fernandes sprinted into the space left by Ronaldo and Robin Koch followed him. Paul Pogba dropped deep and pulled Adam Forshaw with him.

Manchester United led their Leeds markers on a merry dance around Elland Road

Manchester United led their Leeds markers on a merry dance around Elland Road

The same man-to-man sequence happened with Luke Shaw and Dan James, and Jadon Sancho and Stuart Dallas.

United’s players were leading their Leeds markers on a merry dance around the pitch while waiting for Maguire to take this free-kick.

This is the Marcelo Bielsa way and he refuses to deviate from it.

It is a very single-minded system and it shows too much attention to the opposition and does not allow his team to play their own game in a creative manner.

Centre back Victor Lindelof exploited the space to set up the second goal by Bruno Fernandes

Centre back Victor Lindelof exploited the space to set up the second goal by Bruno Fernandes

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Leeds have conceded 13 more goals than at this stage of last season. They are just the third side to let in 56 goals after 25 Premier League games — the other two were both relegated.

It is reliant on winning the ball back, then immediately switching to attack mode, breaking forward at speed and trying to score.

At the moment, it feels too frantic and far too hurried, particularly in front of goal.

Saying that, I don’t think Leeds will go down. There is enough unity between the team and the supporters, particularly now that they are back at Elland Road to cheer on their team, and their home fixtures should save them.

I do feel there is enough talent in this group to survive. But Leeds should simplify their game more and on occasions may be better occupying space and retaining their shape rather than following their opponents around the field.

Liverpool defender Joel Matip broke forward and scored in the 6-0 rout of Leeds this week

Liverpool defender Joel Matip broke forward and scored in the 6-0 rout of Leeds this week

This season has been a very difficult one and there has been a recurring theme in the way that opponents have scored against them recently, which has involved opposition central defenders being able to run the length of the pitch unopposed.

With Leeds’ players man-marking and naively allowing themselves to be pulled out of position by their opponents’ decoy runs, United and Liverpool’s centre backs Victor Lindelof and Joel Matip figured out that they always had an ocean of space in front of them to charge into.

Lindelof broke forward, played a one-two with Sancho and then United scored through Fernandes.

Three days later at Anfield, Liverpool’s Matip likewise broke forward, played a one-two with Mohamed Salah and then scored himself.

It was a strategy straight from the playbook after United and Liverpool’s analysts had noticed this in Leeds’ previous games. If you deploy a man-to-man system all over the pitch, you are only as good as your weakest link.

Right now, it feels as if Bielsa’s man-marking approach is what is making Leeds too weak to get a result and dragging them perilously towards the Premier League’s bottom three.

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