Underrated Leeds United man diagnosed as missing link in Marcelo Bielsa’s ideological mismatch – Joe Donnohue


Burnley are regarded as a direct team, but so are Leeds United.

The word ‘direct’ is not a one-size-fits-all term in football, far from it.

Leeds play ‘vertically’ which essentially means, the team seeks the quickest route to goal by playing forwards at every opportunity.

Burnley prevented Leeds from doing so at Turf Moor – at least for the opening hour anyway. They were suffocated and smothered and couldn’t make the ball stick in central areas.

Repeated fouls, a physical approach and drawing out stoppages in play sapped Leeds of any rhythm, which contributed to the lack of quality on display.


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Burnley’s ‘directness’ is a different type altogether. They do not always seek the quickest route to goal, but they do seek to feed their two-pronged attack whenever feasible: often termed the Route One approach.

Digging into the data behind yesterday’s enthusiasm-sapping display, Leeds contested 49 aerial duels at Turf Moor, winning just over a third.

Against Manchester United and Everton combined, Leeds contested 53. In essence, the ball spent almost as much time in the air in 90 minutes against Burnley, as it did in Leeds’ previous 180 league minutes this season.

The Clarets were able to reduce Leeds to playing a more rudimentary game of football – one they are not used to and less effective at.

But, surely Leeds could still get the ball down and play themselves, no? After all, the Whites had 64.5% possession.

Well, not exactly.



Leeds United’s heatmap at Turf Moor on August 29, 2021 shows how they struggled to control possession in central areas throughout the final third

Typically, when teams are short on ideas they revert to a ‘direct’ approach more akin to Burnley’s.

In layman’s terms, pumping the ball as far up the other end of the pitch as possible should theoretically reduce the chances of conceding, and increase the chances of finding the net.

However, in a team purpose-built for a different style altogether, that renders the most creative players ineffectual. They become isolated and often go in search of a solution by seeking out long balls themselves.

Despite having more of the ball (70% possession) versus Everton, Leeds attempted almost twice as many long passes at Turf Moor than they did a week earlier at Elland Road.

62 long ball attempts vs Manchester United

44 long ball attempts vs Everton

83 long ball attempts vs Burnley

While one player’s omission does not change the pattern of a game so dramatically, Leeds did appear to miss one individual in particular.



Mateusz Klich of Leeds United celebrates after scoring their side's first goal
Mateusz Klich of Leeds United celebrates after scoring their side’s first goal

In Mateusz Klich’s COVID-enforced absence at Turf Moor, Rodrigo was tasked with replacing the 31-year-old’s influence in the middle – a role he has never fully grasped.

Klich is a facilitator; a fulcrum-type player who can spin and pivot, link moves together and on occasion create chances.

Rodrigo on the other hand is more naturally-inclined to attack, support centre-forwards and create that final killer ball.

There were occasions when Rodrigo did link up well with his peers, but they were far too infrequent to be damaging to Burnley.

His work-rate could not be criticised either but his positioning and understanding of the role he was undertaking as the one in Bielsa’s 3-3-1-3 formation did appear to be lacking.



Josh Brownhill of Burnley battles for possession with Rodrigo Moreno of Leeds United during the Premier League match between Burnley and Leeds United at Turf Moor on August 29, 2021 in Burnley, England. (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)

Periods in the game came and went where the Spaniard drifted and did not seek the ball, unlike Klich whose constant shuttling to the flanks helps Leeds keep moves ticking with rotations, often between Raphinha, Luke Ayling and the Pole himself.

Without that yesterday, Leeds were easily hemmed into wide areas by Burnley 2-v-1 pressing, forcing switches of play or hopeful crossing.

Rodrigo largely remained central and consequently was hard for his teammates to access.

Marcelo Bielsa’s assessment of the game was as poignant as ever, but he did stress the limitations his side had when going up against a team like Burnley.

“They [Burnley] had three resources that were important: the capacity to force errors through their two centre-forwards, the management of the set-pieces and [their] very distinct style of play.

“Their style of play means it doesn’t demand that their players shine,” the 66-year-old said.

It was a game where ideologies collided, as well as Patrick Bamford and James Tarkowski.

As simple as it is to understand why Burnley’s philosophy would falter if they were without Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood, so too must we understand that without Klich in such a game, Leeds were bound to struggle.

He is one link in the chain, but on days like yesterday, remains an important one.





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