‘Tis the season for festive formations!
Marcelo Bielsa is respected around the world for his unconventional tactics and he treated Leeds fans to something relatively remarkable on Saturday.
The Championship favourites travelled the short distance to Yorkshire rivals Huddersfield and fans at the John Smith’s Stadium were surprised with the visitors’ set-up.
Not one for following the crowd, Bielsa named a back four consisting of two wingers in the full-backs positions (Gjanni Alioski and Stuart Dallas) and two full-backs in the centre-back positions (Luke Ayling and Gaetano Beradi).
The cherry on top? Ben White – arguably the best centre-back in the Championship this season – was pushed into defensive midfield to cover for the suspended Kalvin Phillips.
All five players had previous experience of varying degrees in their accustomed positions before Saturday’s derby but it was a typically atypical selection from Bielsa; one that was justified as the visitors won 2-0.
As the game progressed, Leeds slipped from a 4-1-4-1 to the Argentine tactician’s favoured 3-3-3-1 and back again.
Sky Sports’ commentators admitted they were somewhat puzzled by Leeds’ shifting shape, particularly when they seemed to adopt a 2-3-4-1 formation — an Inverted Christmas Tree™.
Accustomed to dominating possession, Leeds’ full-backs drifted inside to occupy spaces in the midfield, much like Man City’s full-backs.
Pep Guardiola once called Bielsa ‘the best coach in the world’ and the two share many tactical beliefs.
It should be noted that the Inverted Christmas Tree™ depended on the players’ fitness levels.
Bielsa’s demanding training regime is notorious and the likes of Mateusz Klich, Gjanni Alioski and Jack Harrison are among the most physically fit in the league, enabling them to press relentlessly for 90 minutes.
The 64-year-old’s methods are all-encompassing and unorthodox.
Some believe his relative lack of trophies is because of his stubbornness and the ill-effects of his demanding schedule on his players in the final third of campaigns.
In 2018/19, Leeds mirrored Bielsa’s Marseille side of 2014/15 by fading away after it seemed certain they would be successful in their quest for glory.
However, the Whites have opened up an eight-point gap on third-placed Fulham after six consecutive wins this season.
Together with Slaven Bilic’s impressive West Brom side, Leeds are heavy favourites for automatic promotion at this stage.
A Bielsa side would undoubtedly make the Premier League more entertaining… at least for the tactics nerds.
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