“Here is my shit defence. Deal with it.” – Marcelo Bielsa
Leeds United’s Championship-winning defence was recruited from the likes of Lugano (Ezgjan Alioski), Chesterfield (Liam Cooper), Bristol City (Luke Ayling) and Brentford (Stuart Dallas).
Did Leeds go out and buy shiny new defenders to prepare for life in the Premier League? Not really. They signed Robin Koch from Freiburg and Diego Llorente from Real Sociedad after promotion, but essentially, Leeds are still functioning with a Championship-standard back line.
The stats back this up, clearly, and yet Leeds are currently 12th in the table and firmly established as one of the only teams you would go out of your way to watch for enjoyment’s sake. Leeds v Southampton on a Monday night? I’m in. Newcastle v Southampton? I’m out.
Bielsa’s arrival in the Premier League has proved that you don’t have to set up a team whose MO is to not lose or take a beating, a la Allardyce, Dyche and co. (lately, I would even add Mourinho to this list); so much top-flight football in England is based around keeping things tight, staying in the game, trying to nick a goal. This stuff is grim to watch.
There is another way, Bielsa is showing us: you can set up your team to play attacking football, to create chances, to try to score goals! Who knew? This way takes courage and commitment, because there will be times when you look silly.
Bielsa has turned Dirty Leeds into Dreamy Leeds. Their fans are smiling. Smiling because they have Bielsa, whilst Newcastle (13th in the table) have Steve Bruce.
I wonder if other managers will change how they operate because of Bielsa. Knowing English football, I suspect he will remain the outlier.