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Leeds United Preview - The attacking options

The hiring of Marcelo Bielsa promises attacking football, what are the options at his disposal?

Leeds United v Middlesbrough - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Marcelo Bielsa has a few formations at his disposal, just in pre-season we have seen the 3-3-1-3, 4-2-3-1, and 4-1-4-1, but in all of them he has used attacking wide players, a particularly attacking central player and a central striker.

What are his options in these roles? Who will get the nod against Stoke City for the opening Leeds United fixture on Sunday?


This could be the more advanced CM in the 4-1-4-1, the number 10 in a 4-2-3-1, or the “enganche” in the Bielsa favourite 3-3-1-3.

SAMUEL SAIZ - The playmaker - signed from Huesca in Spain last summer - started the season brilliantly last season and at the halfway point was the comfortable favourite to win Leeds Player of the Year. Then, in the second half of the season not a lot went right for him. In terms of ability there is no doubt that he should be a fixture in the side. He has a great ability to beat players and has that clichéd low centre of gravity which helps in 1v1 situations. He is also a good passer of the ball, this trait is too often let down by an inability to get his head up and find the right pass but the talent is not in question.

However, he can disappear in matches and is known to be a bit (or sometimes a lot) stroppy when things are not going his way. He is a player who should really suit the style of play under Bielsa, given he should have less defensive responsibility than he did last season. I feel like he could do with a goal/big performance in one of the first few games to try and get his confidence back to the levels we saw in 2017, because based on pre-season form he is not guaranteed a start. Can also play out wide but he is not at his best in that role.

LEWIS BAKER - Signed on a season-long loan from Chelsea, Baker looks to be a more athletic option than Saiz in the central role. We saw that against Las Palmas in particular where he made several runs in behind and some chasing back defensively. He also moved out to the right wing at one point meaning he is also an option there.

He is very two-footed, taking set-pieces both right and left-footed during pre-season, and carries a goal threat (despite only getting one goal for Middlesbrough last season). When playing for Vitesse in the Eredivisie he had a 1 in 4 goal record and he got his first goal in a Leeds shirt in the friendly defeat away at Oxford United. Although that was his only goal, he could have had a hat-trick against Guiseley on a different day and the number of long-shots he has taken leads me to think he does not lack confidence. He can also play as a deeper midfielder, something I think is more likely in a 4-1-4-1, than in Bielsa’s other main formations. With the injury to Adam Forshaw, this may be required early in the season.

PABLO HERNANDEZ - Player of the Year last season and I would expect him to play a major part this season while not starting every match. Hernandez is at his best when in a central area as he is not as quick as he was when he was more of a winger in his younger days, and a full Spanish international at that. He is exceptionally creative with a fantastic range of passing and also a decent finisher. Didn’t play as many games as most during pre-season but returned to the starting line-up against Las Palmas putting him in good stead for getting the start on Sunday.

He is still good at taking players on (particularly with a nutmeg), he is the most likely of our three main CAM options to play wide. Some of his best matches last season came with him playing on the left-hand side and seeing him there would certainly not be a cause for concern.


In all Bielsa’s formations, these play similar roles, far less defensive responsibility than last season but required to really press the opposition so it will be a tiring role to play.

EZGJAN ALIOSKI - The Macedonia international struggled for consistency last season but always had plenty of effort. Last season had more tackles that anyone else but this season the wingers will not be required to defend as much so sheer effort will not be something that can be used to mask a poor performance. Got 7 goals last season and probably should have had more. His passing wasn’t good enough at times and too often he would check back inside instead of trying to beat a defender, something which he succeeded in doing less and less as the season went on.

With the options Leeds have, an improvement will be needed for Alioski to remain in the side. I do think he has the ability to do it though, even if we only saw it in flashes last season. With his excellent defensive work-rate it was expected he may play a share of games as a left-wing-back along with Tom Pearce this season but the signing of Barry Douglas has made that far less likely, despite him being used in that role for his country.

JACK HARRISON - A new arrival, on loan from Manchester City, apparently sent here specifically because Pep Guardiola wants him to learn from Marcelo Bielsa.

Harrison has good pace and likes to take players on, which all fans like to see in a winger. Usually deployed on the right allowing him to cut inside on to his left-foot (much like Alioski). A more detailed look at him from New York City FC blog Hudson River Blue is available here.

In January, Harrison was sent on loan to Middlesbrough but didn’t really get a chance. Hopefully Leeds will see the best of him, he had a good pre-season with Man City and did enough to impress his manager. Can also be used as a number 10 and has apparently been used as a wing-back in the past but would expect him to stay in a winger role.

STUART DALLAS - Recently the utility man of the squad, played on both wings, as a full back on both sides, and even briefly as a central midfielder but his best position is on the wing. Although he has never quite replicated the form he showed when at Brentford.

Not expected to be first choice but a useful player to have in the squad, Dallas isn’t rapid but has enough pace to get by. When at his best he has the ability to beat a player and is a good crosser of the ball. The Northern Ireland international isn’t someone who would make my first XI but I would definitely want to keep him around.

TYLER ROBERTS - May well see himself as more of a central striker, but with Leeds’ options this season I think out wide is where he will play most of his football. Signed in January but immediately injured, it wasn’t until pre-season when we finally got to see the Wales u21 international in action.

We have seen some glimpses of quality from him but we will have to wait and see how he progresses and if he can stay fit. Looks to have a good touch and he is another with a natural propensity to try and take players on. The journalists associated with, and the fans of, West Bromwich Albion seemed disappointed to see him leave and he was fresh off an impressive spell with Walsall when Leeds brought him in. Would personally expect him to be on the bench more often than starting at first but he will be another useful option.

JACK CLARKE - Don’t expect him to be thrown in the deep end but after his performances in pre-season I would expect to see him around the first team, maybe gets a start against Bolton in the League Cup?

The 17-year-old played out on the left-wing and was able to cause defenders a lot of problems with his direct running and trickery. Scored a couple of goals in pre-season and showed some of the qualities that had Manchester City interested in signing him. One of a few young players who look very promising.


Everyone agreed that Leeds desperately needed a number 9, we have now signed one, so how are we set?

PATRICK BAMFORD - Should be the main man for us and a lot of how Leeds do this season could well fall on his shoulders. Leeds did not replace the goals of Chris Wood last season and, although he does not have to get 30+ to be a success, he will be required to find the back of the net regularly to justify a fee of £7m (not counting add-ons).

Winner of Championship player of the year in 2015, he has struggled for consistency and often been played out wide rather than in his preferred role as a central striker. Got 10 league goals from February 1st last season putting him behind only Aleksandar Mitrovic in the Championship. Has enough strength for the role and when in form is a natural finisher. Has quick feet and an ability to bring others in to play that could be vital in getting the best out of some of the other players mentioned in this article.

KEMAR ROOFE - Top goalscorer for the club last season and probably deserves more credit than he gets (including from me). Has struggled at time as a lone striker and has also spent a lot of time playing out wide and some time playing as a number 10. When playing well he shows good off the ball movement and can run in behind well, good as a poacher in the box too. The sort of player who can be having a poor game and then nick you a goal, as he did against Las Palmas last weekend.

When on form he can win you a game, best evidenced by the 3-1 victory away at Queens Park Rangers last season in which he scored a hat-trick. Bamford will be the main centre forward so it will be up to Roofe to play his way into the side. I personally think his best position is as a striker but he could well end up playing most of his football on the wing this season.

RYAN EDMONDSON - Much like Jack Clarke for the wingers, not someone who I think will be thrown in yet, to be honest I could see another forward player arriving, but an option nonetheless. Making his debut in the final match of last season looking about 27-years-old (despite being 16 at the time), the now 17-year-old showed no fear and appeared to be able to stand up to the physical side of Championship football. He scored a couple of goals in the friendly win over Guiseley and looks to have a good touch and some natural clever movement. Far from the finished article but deserves to play some first team football this season.

SAM DALBY - Has probably dropped below Edmondson in the pecking order now but a lot of the same points apply to him too. 18-years-old, 6’3” and a natural leader of the line. A little more experienced than Edmondson having played 19 first team matches for Leyton Orient before joining Leeds. Another who got off the mark in pre-season, in his case against York City.

Leeds have plenty of good options in the attacking third and with the football that Bielsa tries to play it could well be an exciting watch. We probably won’t know if these players will be enough for a while but I am looking forward to finding out. The front four against Stoke may not be the long-term first choice as some players have only just arrived at the club. Long term I think we will see Harrison, Saiz, and Hernandez as the main support to Bamford.

Who would be your first choice front 4 this season? Let us know in the comments