OverviewMarcelo Bielsa's footballing philosophy is not too dissimilar to that of Johan Cruyff. Bielsa loves his teams to play with an aggressive press and a high tempo possession style.
Under Bielsa Leeds have employed an aggressive press to squeeze and suffocate their opponents. This highly aggressive pressing was not the norm in the championship with teams usually preferring to regroup and get men behind the ball before counter-attacking. Many people questioned if Leeds could continue to play this way in the Premier league and they have proven they can.
The defensive pressing system is based on two expected outcomes- winning the ball back from their opponents and creating a counter-attack or to force the opponents to hoof the ball up the field. This type of pressing means that everyone from the striker to the centre-backs must be involved in getting the ball back from the opponents. A key element of this pressing is how close the players are when getting to press their opposition. Leeds press from the front whilst also using man-marking supporting the press, forcing the opposition to play backwards or kick the ball long.
While talking about Bielsa’s attacking style, it is impossible to forget his famous 3-3-1-3 formation that he employs when transitioning from defence to attack after winning the ball back after pressing the opponents. Bielsa achieves this by pushing his fullbacks high, providing the width. The centre backs split to allow the defensive midfielder to slot in to make a back 3, this adds cover for the bombing fullbacks. One of the central midfielders will push further forward to fulfil the enganche role. The enganche moves into the hole between the midfield and attack, and his role is to make the killer passes into the box or to dribble past the opponents and create goalscoring opportunities that way. The wingers cut inside and attack the box forming more passing options.
The 4-1-4-1 is just a starting formation with the fluidity to change into the 3-3-1-3. The 3-3-1-3 allows diamonds to be formed all over the pitch allowing for the high tempo possession-based football favoured by Bielsa.
When playing against a lone striker formation the defensive midfielder is deployed as a deep-lying playmaker, when playing against a two striker formation the DM becomes a halfback to maintain the superior numbers at the back.
Check out the video below for a full tactic breakdown including instructions and results.