Marcelo Bielsa could provide Manchester United with a glimpse into the future


Manchester United have a trip to Elland Road scheduled for this weekend, with the Reds set to take on their old rivals in Leeds United on Sunday afternoon.

Past meetings between the two clubs have been feisty, thrilling and packed full of drama, and that seems likely to continue given the attacking nature of both teams.

Despite the animosity between the pair of sides, United supporters could almost be gazing into the future by watching Leeds on Sunday. Marcelo Bielsa has been in charge of the Whites since 2018, and one of his many disciples of him is a certain Mauricio Pochettino.

Tipped to succeed Ralf Rangnick at Old Trafford in the summer, Pochettino has previously described Bielsa as one of the best in the world. “He’s like my football father,” said Pochettino, “I’ve known him since I was 14 years old.”

The current Paris Saint-Germain coach worked under Bielsa at Newell’s Old Boys, Espanyol and the Argentina national team. His time of him under the enigmatic 66 years-old shaped his views of him on football and how the sport should be played.

“He is a very demanding coach,” said Pochettino of his mentor. “It is really, really, really tough to play under him. He believes in his own methods and a different way of playing.”

Bielsa is known for intensity in the footballing world. He was encouraging his players to execute a pressing game before such an approach was widely fashionable, and he’s still upholding his principles in the modern day.

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According to StatsBomb data, Leeds place top of the Premier League for pressures this season, averaging around 165 per game. Bielsa’s men also posted the highest average in the division last season.

His method of pressing is equally unique, as he’s always favored man-marking all over the pitch. As football has evolved, man-marking has grown less and less popular, but Bielsa has kept faith in his roots.

Pochettino’s style has been influenced by Bielsa. The former Tottenham Hotspur coach favors intensity and a proactive brand of football, certainly based on his time in the Premier League while in charge of Southampton and Spurs.

His aggressive playing style has been trickier to implement in Paris due to the stars at his disposal and their reluctance to work like dogs without the ball, but Real Madrid did struggle in their Champions League bout against them on Tuesday night.

As shown below, PSG enforced a man-oriented pressing approach against Madrid, and it paid dividends as Carlo Ancelotti’s men posted just three shots, but faced 21.

Mauricio Pochettino's PSG adopted a man-oriented pressing scheme across the pitch against Real Madrid
Mauricio Pochettino’s PSG adopted a man-oriented pressing scheme across the pitch against Real Madrid

It was a tactical masterclass that Bielsa would have been proud of, although Pochettino has tweaked Bielsa’s methods over the years to make them more practical and less extreme.

The club’s search for a new head coach is ongoing but if Pochettino was to assume the role in the near future, his team would likely share comparable traits with the team who are set to face United this weekend.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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