Will Marcelo Bielsa's Past Catch Up With Leeds?

Will Marcelo Bielsa's Past Catch Up With Leeds?
Aaron Rogan
Aaron Rogan
August 27, 2018
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Before becoming a Sports Journalist for Free Super Tips, Aaron spent three years studying Sports Journalism at the University of Sunderland while taking in the Black Cats' 'glory years' under Martin O'Neill. Now back in Northern Ireland he turns niche stats into predictions for FST, while he's one of the few people on this island who is equally comfortable at Windsor Park and the Aviva.

When Marcelo Bielsa arrived at Elland Road, was either going to be incredible or ridiculous, and very entertaining. So far the Argentine has adapted with ease to the second tier, and his players have clicked in to the style. The issue of his approach adapting to the league has proved to be a non-starter, given how well it has worked at the highest level of the game.

Another win at the weekend has seen Leeds cut to 7/2 to win the title this season. They could be found at 25s at the end of last season, so this is a fantastic improvement. Bielsa has made them the standout side after just five matches, and it’s hard to see who in the league can stop them. However, it may be that Bielsa proves to be his own worst enemy. After their latest win, we’re looking at the problems in store for the new favourites.

Pulsating Start

Leeds have made the gulf in class between them and the rest quite clear early on. They’ve racked up four wins in five, claimed 13 points and scored 14 goals. They have yet to score fewer than two goals in any competitive game this term, and their confidence was on full display at Carrow Road on Saturday. They easily dispatched with Norwich, a game which will be a tricky visit for many of the promotion contenders.

Leeds have really impressed given their fixture list. They haven’t been rattling through relegation favourites; they’ve only met one in five games. So far they have won away at Norwich, Swansea and Derby, while they beat pre-season title favourites Stoke at home.

That success has come largely from the players already at Elland Road. Kemar Roofe has made an inspired start, while Pablo Hernandez has been hailed by Bielsa. The club are being pushed forward by his coaching, and the Argentine is certainly putting the hours in to inspire their promotion push.

Myth of the Flying Start

Many are putting Leeds’ great start down to Bielsa’s supposed track record of getting off on the front foot. However, his speedy starts have been a bit of a myth. Bielsa is in unchartered territory with a European side here, as his sides have never adapted to his approach as quickly as Leeds.

The Argentine has now managed five European teams since the turn of the century, although one of those was a two-day spell at Lazio. He left international football and took charge of Athletic in La Liga back in 2011, and he built a brilliant side. However, it was a team who had a rocky start, failing to win a league game until October. A year at the club did little to improve their start, as his second season brought two wins from their first nine in La Liga.

Bielsa’s season at Marseille is another where he endured a difficult start, failing to win his opening two matches. It took four games for them to really get up and running. When he returned to Ligue 1 in 2017 things didn’t exactly improve – as his Lille side lost four of their first seven. He left is December last year, with 10 defeats from 18 league games. This is his best start to a season on this continent, despite his brilliant career.

Campaign Takes a Toll

However, one thing which isn’t a myth is the tail off that his teams suffer. It was clear in his Athletic days, as they won five and lost 10 of their final 19 matches in all competitions during the 2011/12 campaign. That saw them lose the Copa del Rey and Europa League finals. His side won just two of their final nine games under him in 2012/13, and the Argentine departed that summer.

His Marseille days brought the prospect of a title challenge, but they failed to even make the top four after a post-Christmas slump. They won 13 times before Christmas, and just six times after. Lille didn’t let him reach Christmas, but if they had and let the side tail off in the run-in, then they’d be playing Ligue 2 football this term.

The Press Factor

Obviously slow finishes can be excused, but in two of those three campaigns Bielsa’s sides were fighting for something. They each buckled under the pressure put on them by the manager, as the intensity he demands leaves them waning in the run-in. The high pressing game tires players out early on, and then they suffer when it matters most.

That intensity sets him apart from the world’s top football managers. In fact, Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino – two who consider Bielsa their mentor – are seen as playing a vastly different style by El Loco himself, because of their slower pace. Both of those two top bosses know they can’t tire out their players too early, and they look at Bielsa’s style as over the top.

What makes it worse for Leeds is that they’re playing a 46 game season, which could rise with progress in the cups, and possibly the play-offs. Bielsa’s tail off in his first season with Athletic came after a 63-game season with a winter break, and they fell apart at a crucial stage. On top of that, Leeds have been hitting the required levels with his style from the first minute of the season. At some stage, the calendar will catch up with them.

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