Why Leeds United boss Marcelo Bielsa must respond to two-striker systems

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 12 November 2018, 08:51

Just how do you beat Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United?

17 Championship teams have tried to do that so far this season and of those, only three teams have succeeded: Birmingham, Blackburn and now West Brom, who romped to an extraordinary 4-1 victory on Saturday.

The obvious solution is to play a variation on the 4-5-1 system and focus on shoring up the midfield – but the Baggies’ performance shows there’s reason to think playing a two-striker system might be the way forward.

After Leeds’ 2-1 home defeat to Birmingham in September, Marcelo Bielsa admitted that he made a mistake not playing three-at-the-back to accommodate the second opposing striker, with Lukasz Jutkiewicz partnered by Che Adams for the Blues.

For Saturday’s trip to West Brom, therefore, he deployed Kalvin Phillips, who has been excellent in the holding role this term, as an auxiliary third centre-back to combat the threat posed by Jay Rodriguez and Hal Robson-Kanu.

The 3-4-3 system he deployed though brought complications; especially with the use of Mateusz Klich.

In the usual 4-1-4-1 formation, we have seen the Pole make a real impact with his third-man runs into the penalty area, knowing that he has Phillips in the holding role and another midfielder – sometimes Samuel Saiz covering that midfield area.

Occasionally, Klich returned the favour by staying deeper to allow Saiz to push on but generally he played without inhibitions – and it worked.

In a 3-4-3 at the Hawthorns, he continued to show that same eagerness to break forward – 70% of his touches came in the opposing half.

 

If we look at central midfielders who have consistently performed well in a 3-4-3 over the last two seasons – Nemanja Matic and N’Golo Kante for Chelsea or Romain Saiss and Ruben Neves for Wolves – they are not attacking players.

Although Neves is a wonderful passer of a ball, he only had three penalty-box touches through Wolves title-winning campaign which shows he was focused on controlling those central areas.

Klich, who plays so impulsively, lacks the discipline to carry out that type of role.

Without two midfielders capable of gripping the midfield and picking up second balls reliably, Leeds are vulnerable to swift counter-attacks and this was in evidence for West Brom’s goal.

Within seconds of a penalty appeal turned down, Leeds’ back-three was faced with a lightening counter-attack that Hal Robson-Kanu finished off; for the second, Klich was pick-pocketed in possession by Phillips who powered home and it turned into a rout.

Bielsa has done a wonderful job at Elland Road – and one bad result will not faze a masterful tactician like him.

The Argentine does, however, need to discover a way of countering two-striker systems.

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