Leeds United – Bielsa’s System And Their FPL Prospects

Leeds United are back in the Premier League for the first time in 16 years and that means we FPL managers have a new team to pick from!

The sleeping giants of English football stormed the Championship under maverick manager Marcelo Bielsa last season, and will be hoping to establish themselves among English football’s elite in the 2020/21 campaign.

Leeds’ Style of Play

Defensively

Leeds defend with a relentless high press that suffocated many teams in the Championship. They aim to cut off passing options for the opposition player with the ball high up the pitch, which often forces him to hoof the ball long.

This suited Leeds, as their centre-backs last season, Ben White and captain Liam Cooper, were very competent in the air and able to win the majority of their areal duels, often resulting in possession being regained for Leeds.

If the press was successfully broken, Kalvin Phillips, affectionately dubbed the “Yorkshire Pirlo” by Leeds fans, was often on hand to stifle opposition attacks.

Phillips made an impressive 2.6 successful tackles per game last season, as well as 1.4 interceptions per game. He provides the Leeds back four with superb protection and is a key cog in the Bielsa machine.

The combination of a well-coordinated and fluid high press, led by hard-working striker Patrick Bamford, the protection offered by Phillips and the areal ability of the two centre-backs meant Leeds conceded the fewest amount of goals in the Championship last season (just 35 at an average of 0.76 per game).

Offensively

With the ball, Leeds switch between a 4-1-4-1 formation and a highly complex 3-3-1-3.

Image from (https://www.leeds-live.co.uk/sport/leeds-united/marcelo-bielsa-3313-formation-leeds-16682486)

Their attacking system is built on constant rotations, with the aim of creating an overload and leaving one of Leeds’ attacking midfielders or wide players free to receive the ball in space in the final third.

White, Cooper and Phillips are always looking to “progress” the ball, either by playing a forward pass or by carrying the ball themselves.

They’re able to do this because the players in front of them are constantly interchanging, meaning markers are unsure whether to follow them and leave space in behind, or drop off and allow Leeds to progress the ball easily.

Phillips is so key to the Leeds system because when they do play in the 3-3-3-1 system, he is the only central midfield player that Leeds can play through. This means he is required to be the pivot that keeps Leeds ticking over.

He has to be extremely comfortable on the ball in high pressure situations. The newly capped England international completes an average of 56 passes per game, despite him often being the target of an intense press from the opposition.

In front of Phillips, Leeds’ attackers rotate to draw defenders to them and leave space for one of their team-mates behind. They then play a series of quick passes to put the spare man into space.

This sequence of play is rapid and well rehearsed, which allows the Leeds player to have the ball in a threatening position before the opposition can react.

Leeds’ ever-interchanging, high energy attacking style means they’re able to create overloads and produce plenty of goal-scoring opportunities. They averaged almost 16 shots per game last season, with an xG of 1.81 per game.

These are impressive numbers and although you would expect regression in a higher quality league, I believe Leeds will cause Premier League defences problems with their overloads in the final third and will score plenty of goals this season.

The Fixtures

Leeds’ first 8 fixtures: LIV (A), FUL (H), SHU (A), MCI (H), WOL (H), AVL (A), LEI (H), CPL (A)

On paper, this appears to be a difficult start for Bielsa’s men. Four of the first five games look particularly tough. However, there are a few good fixtures thrown into the mix.

Perhaps the most obvious of those is the home fixture with fellow newly-promoted side Fulham, who Leeds dispatched 3-0 in the Championship in June.

Away trips to Aston Villa and Crystal Palace also stand out as winnable games. The game against Palace in particular looks like a friendly fixture for The Whites, who’s high intensity style should fare well against an ageing Eagles team that are not blessed with pace defensively.

Wolves and Leicester both perhaps haven’t strengthened their squads as much as they’d have liked this summer, so Leeds certainly won’t fear them when they come to Elland Road either.

All in all, when you look deeper at the fixture list, apart from the obviously tough games against Liverpool and Man City, Leeds will fancy themselves to collect points.

I certainly think there is potential for their FPL assets to perform well in the opening 8 games.

FPL assets to consider

Illan Meslier (GK – £4.5)

Meslier played the final 10 games of last season after coming in for former Real Madrid keeper Kiko Cassila, who received a lengthy ban for racially abusing an opponent.

He kept an impressive 7 clean sheets in those 10 games, making 20 saves in the process. You would expect the latter tally to increase against higher quality opposition, but I would still expect Leeds to keep at least a couple of clean sheets in the opening 8.

The unanimous opinion amongst Leeds fans is that Meslier has done more than enough to be the number 1 this season, and I think he could provide excellent value behind a solid Leeds defence.

Luke Ayling (DEF – £4.5)

Leeds’ full-backs are extremely attacking in Bielsa’s system because they share the flank with the winger in front of them.

They often make underlapping runs that see them become the most advanced of the wide players and the player trusted to play the final ball or have a shot on goal.

Because of this, Ayling racked up 4 goals and 4 assists last season in 37 matches. The eye test showed that he could have had plenty more attacking returns too.

The Englishman is a man reborn under Biesla, who has turned him into an all-action right back/wing-back that often pops up in the penalty box to either deliver the final ball for his team-mates or shoot himself.

The last time an attacking right-wing back that likes a goal from a newly promoted team came to the Premier League, it didn’t go too badly…

Mateusz Klich (MID – £5.5)

Leeds’ Polish midfielder notched 6 goals and 5 assists in the Championship last season, with an eye-catching 10 goals and 8 assists the season before.

Klich clearly has an eye for goal, and isn’t afraid of shooting from distance, taking 76 shots at an average of 1.7 shots per game last season.

As well as his goal threat, Klich can be a creator. The attacking midfielder created 1.7 chances per game last term and made 24 final third passes per 90 mins, the third most of any player in the Championship last season.

It’s clear that he has Bielsa’s complete trust to provide goals and assists for Leeds, starting 92 consecutive games under “El Loco”.

As well as this, there’s a chance that Klich will be on penalties for the Whites at the start of the season, having taken and scored Leeds’ most recent spot-kick against Stoke in a pivotal match on the way to Leeds’ promotion in the 19/20 campaign.

The Pole is an attacking midfielder that has licence to get into goalscoring positions frequently under Bielsa, and is at a price point where you can afford to take a punt. He’s someone that is firmly on my watchlist ahead of GW1.

Rodrigo (FWD – £6.0)

The Spanish number 9 comes to Yorkshire with both a large price tag and reputation, and is likely to be crucial if Leeds are to succeed this season.

An interesting point to note is that Rodrigo isn’t a notoriously prolific striker. His stats certainly don’t jump off the page at you. In fact, he has only notched double figures for league goals once in the last six seasons.

However, he is almost certain to receive better service at Elland Road than he did at the Mestalla. He only notched 1.6 shots per game in a turgid Valencia side last season. In comparison, Leeds striker Patrick Bamford had over 3 shots per game.

Bamford had a staggering xG of 24.34 last season (he scored 16), which further illustrates the fact that Rodrigo will get plenty of goal scoring opportunities in a white shirt.

Rodrigo is very good at creating for his team-mates however.

He got 7 assists in La Liga last season in 27 matches, which puts him third in La Liga for assists per 90 minutes last season.

I expect his attacking output to improve at Leeds under the tutelage of Bielsa. His best season in a Valencia shirt ( he scored 16 league goals in 2017/18) came when the team was energetic and got bodies forward quickly. That description fits this Leeds side to a tee.

Although I think he will fit into Bielsa’s system well from a tactical perspective, it might take him a little bit of time to get up to the high levels of fitness required to put it into practice, having come from a team that didn’t press much.

This, coupled with the fact that he has been away on international duty so has had little time to train with his new team-mates, means he’s probably a “wait and see” for me from the start.

Having said that, I think he could offer some decent value at £6.0 at some point in the season.

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