Leeds United v Brentford: Marcelo Bielsa refuses to be diverted off course

AMID Leeds United’s difficult moments in 2021-22 – and there have been a few – the talk among the sooth-sayers has been of Marcelo Bielsa needing to find a ‘Plan B.’

Bielsa does have a Plan B and it is quite a simple one. Implement Plan A better. There is an honesty, clarity and good sense to his articulations as well.

A few rough months here and there during a tenure which has been enlightening and exhilarating not just to Leeds United followers, but countless football lovers, is no reason to change tack.

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Chris Wilder, the previous manager at the last Yorkshire club other than Leeds to reside in the Premier League in Sheffield United, also enjoyed success and earned acclaim for the Blades’ innovative 3-5-2 system incorporating overlapping centre-backs in their rise to the top-flight and ninth-placed finish in 2019-20.

Marcelo Bielsa: Not for turning. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Amid their sojourns last season, Wilder did not change course despite canvassing the opinions of many respected figures in the game. The message was the same – to thine own self be true.

Of course, the history books show that the Blades went down in 2020-21. But poor recruitment and injuries were more to do with it. Even restrictions imposed because of the Covid-19 pandemic played its part as Bramall Lane, a passionate arena, stood eerily empty. It was not a case of the Blades being rumbled tactically.

Under Bielsa, Leeds will continue to press the opposition relentlessly to win the ball back as quickly as possible. The main components of ‘movement, rotation, concentration and improvisation’ as mentioned by Jed Davies in his tome entitled: The Philosophy of Football: In Shadows of Marcelo Bielsa are set in stone. Even amid tough times.

Bielsa, whose side face Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool in successive matches after tomorrow’s game with Brentford, said: “The way in which a team chooses to compete (play) is a decision that has to be reflected on a lot because to construct it takes a long time.

Brentford manager Thomas Frank: Respected by Leeds United coach Marcelo Bielsa.

“Not maintaining your philosophy of play and abandoning the main themes that sustain it, that is very easy.

“But what is difficult is to construct a new philosophy to substitute it. Not that it resolves the next game, but that it works as a base that lasts because the urgency that we have to obtain results, it generates this option of the Plan B. From my point of view, that has caused a lot of damage to football in general.

“What needs to be considered or should be considered is the improvement of the chosen plan, not the substitution of it.

“What you cannot do is change it on a weekly basis because to consolidate takes a long time and what is really significant is what you obtain or what you deserve.

“Because if what is deserved is obtained, then the path is the correct one and if what is obtained is not deserved, then the path is not the right one and in both cases time verifies those two things.”

In contrast to Bielsa, his rival in the opposite dug-out tomorrow in Thomas Frank has proved flexible in his approach. For much of Brentford’s promotion season, he employed a 4-3-3 system before switching to a 3-5-2 at its tail end.

The Bees have stuck with that system in their maiden campaign in the Premier League and their bold offensive style has impressed Bielsa. You suspect it has earned his respect, even if they are a direct opponent tomorrow.

Their position of 12th in the table points to a certain level of success. Their scalps include Arsenal and West Ham and they took a point off Liverpool and were unlucky to be edged out by Chelsea. They have enhanced the top flight just as Leeds did last term.

Bielsa said: “They have a genuine rush to be protagonists in that they always try to keep the ball.

“Anyone who has seen Brentford play this season can see that they attack with six players and always want to keep the ball. That is not common in any league.

“And even more so when that said team is not within the most prestigious clubs in the league.

“So far, Brentford have shown to be a different team in the Premier League. The most significant thing and novel thing I have seen is the amount of elements they attack with and the management they have of the ball in all the sectors of the pitch.”

Leeds head into the game on the back of a relieving win over Crystal Palace on Tuesday night.

This latest visit from a London side is no less important, more especially given their future opponents in the rear-view mirror.

Bielsa, whose side have yet to win back-to-back league games this term, observed: “To win consecutively fortifies you.

“We focus on every game independent of who comes next.

“But given the amount of fixtures we have played up until now, the points that we have got on the board are few and every fixture is an opportunity to balance our numbers.”