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The Bielsa way: A new look Leeds United

The possibilities for how Leeds will line up under new manager Marcelo Bielsa

Panchine d’oro e d’argento - Italian Football Federation Award Ceremony Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Marcelo Bielsa’s appointment at the Whites has been hailed as the highest profile Leeds appointment since the seventies, with many Peacocks supporters buzzing with excitement over the two time international manager. Bielsa has been praised by some of the top managers in Europe right now, the names amongst them are fellow Argentines Diego Simeone and Mauricio Pochettino and perhaps the greatest manager in the world: Pep Guardiola. Bielsa’s masterful tactics may fit the Leeds team wonderfully, with young players able to excel to their very best under such a prestigious coach, however some must adapt and some must be brought into the football club to then create a promotion challenging squad at Elland Road. By now, the 62 year old’s 3-3-1-3 formation will be well-known amongst the Leeds faithful but his fresh system may bring up some vital questions while others in his line-up seem to fit so well as if it were destiny. Now, we show you the options that the Olympic gold medalist may take as he follows up on his almost endless video analysis of the Whites.

3-3-1-3

Goalkeeper

Felix Wiedweld was nothing short of a swing and a miss in the Whites’ search for a replacement between the sticks following former England international Rob Green’s departure from Elland Road. A goalkeeping problem that should never have been, Thomas Christiansen’s number two choice for the keeper spot Andy Lonergan wasn’t much better before Paul Heckingbottom decided to throw youngster Bailey Peacock-Farrell into the first team who showed a significant improvement over his two senior counter-parts and could keep the Leeds goal under control for the meantime. Wiedweld has since departed and Leeds fans hold Peacock-farrell in much higher stead and now believe that he deserves a chance to become number one.

This summer, Manchester City’s Angus Gunn has been a name rumoured more than any to arrive at Leeds on a season-long loan. His eye-catching displays for fellow Championship outfit Norwich City combined with Bielsa’s close relationship with the City gaffer, this move could prove perfect for Leeds.

David Stockdale is another name mentioned, a Leeds lad playing for Birmingham City with the 32 year old rumoured to be exiting St Andrews. A man with Premiership experience and a Leeds United supporter, he would have a lot to offer the Leeds if signed on this summer.

With this deal slowing down, the Whites have turned to Chelsea’s Jamal Blackman on a loan deal. The 24 year-old recently visited Thorp Arch before travelling to Holland to speak to Vitesse with his decision soon on its way. Last season he was at Sheffield United and seriously impressed with Leeds fans able to remember his class against Leeds themselves. An exciting option with Championship experience with nine clean-sheets between the sticks for the Championship new-comers.

Centre-backs – 3

Pontus Jansson has been a fan favourite since his debut for Leeds. However, his performances from his first year at Leeds would not quite be replicated last season. His partnership with Swansea City’s Kyle Bartley throughout the 2016/17 season was unbreakable on and off the pitch, with his return in a white shirt on a permanent basis bayed for by the Leeds supporters.

Luke Ayling, who has been on holiday with his former Arsenal teammate Bartley, used to apply his trade in the centre of defence for the Gunners’ youth and would occasionally fill-in for Leeds if needed. Ayling’s confidence on the ball and fantastic ability to play outwards from the back fits perfectly with the Bielsa way as he expects his centre-halves to have the skill to pass amongst each other before bringing the wing-backs into play who will then bring the ball up the pitch with the assistance of the holding midfielder. Ayling would perfectly fit with Jansson and Bartley, a back three all familiar with each other and could provide Bielsa’s ideal central defensive trio.

Alternatively, Tottenham Hotspurs’ young Argentine centre-back Juan Foyth has been linked to a loan deal at Elland Road. The Tottenham youngster has proved an exciting prospect and could receive vital experience in the Championship. Poise on the ball, a vast range of passes and strong in winning the ball, whether he slides in or stays on his feet, Foyth could also fit wonderfully in the new Leeds set-up.

Left-wing back

Academy graduate Tom Pearce’s breakthrough for Leeds was nothing short of spectacular and extremely promising for a young man swiftly finding himself in the Whites’ first team and quickly established himself over his five appearances as a seriously exciting prospect at left back. A mean strike, cracking crosses, perfect passing and no-nonsense tackles, Pearce takes no prisoners in his defending with his great pace and strides on the ball, the twenty year old seems like a match made in heaven for Bielsa’s 3-3-1-3 system and ideology for his wing-backs.

The signing of Belgian Laurens De Bock didn’t solve the left-back problem which led to Pearce’s introduction and Leeds fans aren’t quick to forget De Bock’s abysmal performances over his short time in the first team, with many of the Leeds faithful calling for a quick end to his United spell. A rumoured signing for Bielsa is former Athletic Bilbao man Jon Aurtenetxe, who has worked under Bielsa previously. Like Ayling, the Spaniard can also operate as a centre-back while also having a decent weak foot and instead could operate on the right side to make way for Tom Pearce. A real hunger to get forward is something that Bielsa will be looking for, with a wicked cross and aggression on the ball, the 26 year old could prove a real asset to the Peacocks since being released by Scottish strugglers Dundee.

Right-wing back

Luke Ayling is also an option as the Leeds right wing back, with his natural standing on the pitch being on the right side of defence. As previously mentioned Jon Aurtenetxe could also fill this role to keep Pearce at left wing back and Ayling as one of the three centre-backs. The right wing back position is the most interesting part of the team at the moment. Just as Chile’s Gary Medel was deployed as a full back rather than his native central midfield role, there are three capable central midfielders who could potentially adapt to fill this role.

The first is Kalvin Phillips, the academy product established a fairly consistent role in the Leeds team last season, scoring seven and setting up three goals in the league. Phillips showed two sides to his game, going forward and racing back to defend, and despite his questionable sliding challenges (earning him 13 yellow cards) he certainly could fit this role nicely with room for improvement.

Adam Forshaw is the second candidate who could adapt his game but would also arguably be the best suited to the holding midfield position. However, the Liverpudlian does not lack a yard of pace and holds the ball with plenty of poise, great ability to pick out a pass and the quality to speed up or slow down the play. He has also shown his strong defensive qualities from day one and his experience could definitely help him along the way.

Ronaldo Viera broke through into the Whites’ first team two seasons ago, showing the Leeds faithful what he’s all about; strong on and off the ball; cross-field passes that are second to none and a real man for all seasons in the middle of the park. This is another player whose strengths may or should (depending on how you look at it) be utilised in the middle but at this early stage in his career, it’s the best time to learn should he adopt a right wing back position.

Lewie Coyle was a fan favourite at Fleetwood Town last season and he has been sent there for another loan deal, this time for six months under Joey Barton before returning to Elland Road. Many fans wanted to see him play after such a successful season though we may get a glimpse upon his return.

Holding midfielder

In the hole between the wingbacks bring your three fore-mentioned central midfielders Adam Forshaw – a leader, Ronaldo Viera – A ball-playing man for all seasons and Kalvin Phillips – a tough tackling middle-man with an eye for goal.

Alongside these current men wearing the white jersey, Hibernian’s John McGinn has found himself linked with a move to Elland Road. In Scotland’s top two divisions, McGinn has gone through the tough times with the Hibees, seeing them through a successful Premiership return with the Edinburgh side. The 23 year-old played a crucial role in their campaign while earning himself nine Scotland caps and now may set his sights onto English football, with Leeds United supposedly interested. He’s sharp, strong and gets the ball out quickly, something that Bielsa sees as crucial to his holding midfielder.

Enganche (Number 10)

Samu Saiz showed his magical trickery and quality on the ball I the first half of last season, but seemingly fell of the horse following his six match suspension in the FA cup third round. However there are no doubts that at his best he makes things happen for Leeds with his fancy flicks, mazy runs and venomous strike with sharp movement to adhere.

Fellow Spainard Pablo Hernandez scooped players’ player of the year and player of the year for last season with nine goals and ten assists to his name in league and cup. The 33 year old is nothing short of a fans favourite as he signed a two-year extension during last season, to the delight of the Elland Road supporters. However with age comes changes in an athlete’s body, Hernandez may not be able to carry himself the way he used to and may no longer have the legs to last ninety minutes but without doubt makes things happen on the pitch.

Celtic FC’s Callum McGregor is, in my eyes, the ready-made Pablo Hernandez replacement, but will come at a big cost. He carries the ball like a La Masia graduate and shows his class on the field, just watch his performances in the Champions League, Old Firm and Scottish Cup, he thrives in big atmospheres. If it were not for Scott Brown’s retirement, he would’ve easily been the player of the year.

Yosuke Ideguchi went through a tough second half to the season as he was loaned out to partner club Cultural Leonesa in the Spanish second division to then be dropped by the Japanese national team squad for the World Cup and now arrives at Thorp Arch with a point to prove. He is also capable of playing a deeper role in the midfield. Lewis Baker was signed on loan from Chelsea following a slow season with Middlesbrough. However, his success with Vitesse and second chance to prove his quality in the Championship, he will be a big asset to the Leeds team for certain.

Front three

Along with Saiz and Hernandez as possible wingers (one will have to fill such a role if Bielsa wants them in the same line-up), Matej Vydra; the Championship’s top scorer last season with 21 goals, has been put on top of Bielsa’s target list as the versatile Czech international is versatile among a front three. Vydra knows what it takes to play Premiership football and at the age of 26, Vydra is at the peak of his powers. A player such as Vydra doesn’t come cheap, especially for a Championship rival as Derby County’s Frank Lampard looks to sell him in the region of £10 million-£12 million.

Welshman Tyler Roberts has now had three separate head coaches at Leeds since signing on the dotted line for a reported £3 million from West Bromwich Albion. The 19 year-old has suffered a couple of injuries. Despite not making an appearance, Roberts could fit the bill nicely; he’s versatile, playing across the front three, he adds pace, skill-full dribbling and movement that’s lung-busting for any defender. The presence of Roberts could be why Bielsa has reportedly blocked the transfer of Carpi striker Jerry Mbakogu to Leeds, who has not been a popular rumour amongst Leeds fans.

Abel Hernandez on the other hand, has been a far more popular choice. A deal for the free agent Uruguayan is yet to be struck as interest from other clubs and the pursuit of other targets has perhaps delayed it, but there is still solid interest from the Leeds hierarchy. Despite injury problems, Hernandez smashed eight goals in ten matches, accompanied by two assists, however has seemingly been holding Leeds to ransom, not quite the bargain that was once thought.

Kemar Roofe made a huge improvement on the score sheet as he bagged fourteen goals with five assists alongside last season despite injury. Roofe is versatile, able to play across the front three and certainly fits the bill for a Bielsa striker who bases their game on movement.