Like most people, I was really excited for the new Premier League season to kick-off this weekend. The Manchester United and Leeds United fixture was probably the game I was most looking forward to, given the progress of both teams in the last 12-18 months. Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds have been phenomenal to watch since the arrival of the Argentinian, with fluid, attacking football mixed with high intensity and a willingness to max the quality with an insane amount of work. Manchester United have really impressed me over the lockdown season with a young squad continuing to grow individually and collectively. Watching this game, there were a few things that jumped out to me from a coaching perspective that I wanted to breakdown and share.
Leeds have always caught the eye for their ball movement and rotations in the attack. Last year we had coach and author John Wall present a phenomenal webinar for Modern Soccer Coach on the intricacies of this side of the game. In this example below from today's game, Manchester United apply pressure in a 4-2-3-1 press, but it’s the detail and execution of Leeds United’s combination play that tears it apart. Prior to the first pass, Leeds United create a triangle with the full-back, central midfielder and wide attacker. In just under three seconds and two passes later, that triangle is completely flipped and Leeds have space to attack the United defensive line. It’s widely known that Bielsa and Leeds work on these on the practice field with unopposed combination exercises, but once the press is broken you can also see the mentality to commit numbers forward and progress the ball into the final third.
Defensive transitioning is another side of the game that Leeds United have excelled in under Marcelo Bielsa. With such an attacking system in which full-backs are constantly pushing up into attacking positions, it’s only natural for Leeds to concede space in the initial transition. Their recovery therefore, needs to be at an exceptional level, and it often is. In this clip below you can see how the right-back Stuart Dallas, is initially behind the play, leaving Leeds 3v3 at the back. They solve this with the center-back delaying the attacker and showing wide, allowing Dallas to drop back in and create a back four. The most impressive thing for me here is that this took only eight seconds for Leeds to get re-organized and it allows them to defend the cross effectively.
Another example of transitions that caught my eye in the game was United’s first goal and the work of McTominay, Pogba and Bruno Fernandes. Again, you can see the expansive shape of Leeds in the initial build-up. However, as we’ve seen in the last clip, with limited time to take advantage, that shape can re-organize very quickly. Manchester United are clinical for two reasons, in my opinion: Firstly, McTominay looks for a longer pass diagonally in the transition. This removes the counter-press and allows Pogba to receive facing forward (as he is in a less congested area.) At the same time, Fernandes is filling the space between two center backs, giving Pogba the target to play towards goal. It’s only two passes before the finish, but the decisions and the execution are absolutely world class.
If you enjoy these short breakdowns and would like them to continue, please share this post amongst your coaching community. If there is a good response to it, I will certainly keep creating and sharing content like this.
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