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How Leeds rocked Liverpool with man-to-man marking, overloads, pressing and transitions – can Chelsea boss Frank Lampard take inspiration from Marcelo Bielsa?

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Well, this was worth the wait. 16 years since Leeds United last played in the Premier League they were finally back at the level where they belong.

Not only were we glad to see Leeds back in the top-flight but this was finally our opportunity to see their coach Marcelo Bielsa coaching at this level.

Leeds provided plenty of excitement on their return to the Premier League against Liverpool

Getty – Pool

Leeds provided plenty of excitement on their return to the Premier League against Liverpool

In truth we could not have hoped for a better opening day fixture.

The champions of the Championship traveled to Anfield to face the champions of the Premier League in a thrilling Saturday evening clash.

This match represented a tactical battle between Jurgen Klopp and Bielsa, one many were intrigued about even before the fixtures were announced.

In the end we saw a match full of transitions as both sides attacked and counter attacked with abandon.

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Liverpool lined up, as expected, in their 4-3-3 shape although there were some changes in the midfield area.

Fabinho, who played the majority of last season as the 6, was not fit enough to start the match and so instead Jordan Henderson started the match as the 6 in the centre of the three.

He was flanked by Gini Wijnaldum to the left and Naby Keita to the right. Having sat out the match against Arsenal in the Community Shield match we saw Trent-Alexander Arnold start again at right-back.

The system for Leeds in the first instance was a 4-1-4-1 as expected but there was a new look in the centre of the defence.

With Ben White having returned to Brighton at the end of his loan spell and with Liam Cooper unavailable we saw new signing Robin Koch partnered by Pascal Struijk.

This last pre-season saw Leeds break their transfer record to sign the Spanish international forward Rodrigo but he was left on the bench for this match as Patrick Bamford was given the start as the loan forward.

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The xG story of the match is somewhat inflated by Liverpool having been awarded two penalties.

In the end the xG came out as 3.68 for Liverpool against 0.67 for Leeds. When we dig deeper into the statistics however we see Liverpool edge the possession battle with slightly more of the ball.

What we will not see very often, however, is a team go to Anfield and play more passes than the home side.

In this match Liverpool attempted 416 passes compared to 440 for the away side. In this match the playing philosophy of Marcelo Bielsa was in full effect.

Laura Woods & Ally McCoist ask if Leeds are now becoming a favourite amongst fans of other Premier League teams

Leeds aggressive man to man system

Often people choose to concentrate on the attacking transitions of Leeds under Bielsa as their attacking style is so eye catching. Their defensive structure, however, deserves to be talked about in its own right as it is so unique.

Out of possession Leeds defended in a man orientated system which saw them doggedly defend in isolation 1v1 against the Liverpool players. At times we saw players completely move out of their positional slot in order to follow a Liverpool player. 

This was especially evident with the Leeds defenders who would move completely out of position as they tried to track the movement of the Liverpool attackers.

Firmino worked hard until the very last for Liverpool

Firmino worked hard until the very last for Liverpool

Roberto Firmino has a clear tendency to drop into deeper positions in order to aid the ball progression for Liverpool. What we saw in this match was the ball side central defender following Firmino into these deep positions.

Normally, this would result in the likes of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah making quick diagonal movements to attack the space that Firmino had left behind.

Instead, as Leeds man marked the fullbacks tracked these runs from the wide forwards and negated this threat.

This defensive style of play requires absolute discipline and an incredible amount of time spent on the training ground honing their understanding of these movements.

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We see an example of this in the image above as Liverpool are looking to build out from the back.

Firmino has started to move towards and ball and the ball-near central defender, Robin Koch, has tracked the run.

As the Brazilian forward continues to drop, into the Liverpool half, Koch continues to track the run. As you can see the other options for Liverpool are all closely tracked by Leeds players.

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This time we see Sadio Mane in possession for Liverpool as the Senegal international moves into the central areas.

As Mane moves across he is tracked by Leeds right-back Luke Ayling, and we also see Firmino moving deeper and again being tracked closely by one of the two central defenders.

This form of man orientated marking continued for the entirety of the match for Leeds.

Mane was trailed by Ayling throughout the match

Mane was trailed by Ayling throughout the match

Leeds negate threat of TAA

Last season saw the emergence of Trent Alexander-Arnold as a key player in the attacking phase for Liverpool.

The young England international became key for Liverpool in terms of their ball progression as they looked to move the ball cleanly into the final third.

Indeed, such was his passing range and vision he became a key part of their attacking model.

In this match we saw the Liverpool right-back barely make an impact on the game in the attacking phase as Leeds continuously overloaded his side of the pitch and kept him essentially pinned back.

For the whole match we saw the two Leeds midfielders Pablo Hernandez and Mateusz Klich move across to that side of the pitch to combine with the left-sided attacker Jack Harrison and Patrick Bamford as the favoured movement towards Joe Gomez and away from Virgil van Dirk.

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Here we see Klich initially in possession of the ball as he looks outside and combines quickly with Jack Harrison.

The on-loan Manchester City man is able to take possession and then play a pass beyond the Liverpool midfield as Hernandez has also occupied this space and he makes a vertical run that breaks the lines and takes five Liverpool players completely out of the game.

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We see a similar situation here with Leeds streaming forward to attack in transition and overloading the Liverpool right-hand side.

They have runners moving into advanced positions in order to support the ball carrier.

These movements meant that Alexander-Arnold was consistently pressured out of possession and could not move forward into the advanced areas that he is used to.

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As well as overloading one side of the pitch we saw the Leeds midfielders keep making forward runs in order to get behind the Liverpool midfield.

This meant that Kalvin Phillips would be isolated as the 6 but the Leeds midfield players occupied spaces and overloaded the opposition penalty area.

In the above image we see a switch of play from Phillips and as the far side player takes possession the two central midfielders for Leeds are already positioned beyond the Liverpool midfield.

Pressing and transitions

While Leeds pressed and defended in a man on man orientation we saw Liverpool use familiar pressing structures to disrupt the Leeds build-up.

With Phillips often isolated in the Leeds midfield they looked to use their full-backs to progress the ball from the back and this saw Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah press from outside to inside in order to apply pressure and cut off the passing lanes out to these players.

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We see and example of this above with the two wide forwards for Liverpool moving across to press the ball and cut off passing angles behind them.

This tended to be combined with Roberto Firmino positioning himself centrally, behind the initial press, in a position that allowed him to cover the potential out ball to Kalvin Phillips at the base of the Leeds midfield.

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While Leeds were intent on pressing and playing in man to man coverage there were times in which this broke down and Leeds were able to move forward in quick attacking transitions where they had space in order to overload the Leeds back line.

We see an example of this above as Liverpool are attacking and given the position of the two teams they have a 5v3 advantage with Leeds struggling to get back into positions.

Conclusion 

The tactical story of this match will always have been overshadowed by the score line.

A 4-3 result tells a story of goals and perhaps poor defences. Instead, though, this was a match about contrasting styles and attacking transitional football.

Liverpool were tested hugely and will have been thankful for the sublime finishing of Mohamed Salah to see them through.

For me, there can be no doubt that Leeds deserve to be at this level and they will continue to be one of the most fascinating teams to watch in the Premier league.


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