Leeds’ dirty work is shaking up the Premier League: Marcelo Bielsa’s men are out-tackling, out-pressing and recovering possession more than any other team this season
- Leeds United have made and won more tackles than any team in the top tier
- The Whites have also pressed their opponents the most in their first four games
- Ferocious approach earned a deserved 1-1 draw with Manchester City
- Coach Marcelo Bielsa sees strong defending as the beginning of a good attack
The Whites may only be eighth in the early-season table, but they are untouchable in almost every statistic when it comes to hard work.
After four games, they have already made more than 100 tackles, well above any other team in the league; they have won more tackles, averaging a colossal 18 per game, and they have pressured their opponents on more occasions than anyone else.
Their energy is such that no team is more effective at recovering the loose ball, either. Leeds have reclaimed possession 252 times so far, with Liverpool their closest rivals on 246.
Leeds United have made more tackled and recovered the ball more often than any other side
And on average they press their opponent 184 times in each match.
Leeds United rank #1 in the Premier League for tackles and recoveries
Most tackles in a match:
1.Leeds United, 32 vs Manchester City (h), October 3
Most tackles made:
1.Leeds United, 105
Most tackles won on average:
1.Leeds United, 18 per game
Most occasions possession recovered:
1.Leeds United, 252
1.Leeds United, 27
Most presses against an opponent on average:
1.Leeds United, 184 per game
Sources: Opta and Fbref
It is this extraordinary commitment that gives Leeds a solid platform on which to build a successful season as they return to the Premier League for the first time in 16 years.
The only question now is: can they maintain this furious pace?
Leeds’ ferocious display on Saturday saw them make a chart-topping 32 tackles, winning 21 of them, and it knocked City, runners-up last term, right out of their stride, earning a deserved 1-1 draw.
It was a similar story at Anfield in the first game of the season when the Whites got stuck into the champions, again making a season-high 32 tackles and narrowly losing the game 4-3.
Leeds’s physicality will come as no surprise to anyone who has studied coach Marcelo Bielsa.
The Argentinian has always demanded exceptional work rate from his players, which he sees as an integral part of the game.
‘We played our part for the game to be a beautiful one,’ Bielsa said after the draw with City at Elland Road. ‘[City] is a very powerful team, physically, mentally and technically.
‘We had to put in an immense physical effort to be on even terms or slightly better than City for half the game,’ added Bielsa.
‘In the beginning, we weren’t able to take the ball off them. After we were more aggressive in the duels and as a whole. And apart from defending better, we could attack and attacked well.’
Midfielder Kalvin Phillips (right) is integral to Leeds tough-tackling approach to the game
A focus on defence does not imply a negative approach to the game. It is simply part of Bielsa’s football philosophy that a team has to be good in defence, if it is to be effective in attack.
‘A lot of the time you have to defend better so you can attack well,’ he reflected on Saturday.
Leeds’ players are expected to put the miles in whenever they play, in both defence and attack, and they do so willingly for a manager they clearly adore.
Against Manchester City Leeds made a season-high 32 tackles, winning 21 of them
Last season, Bielsa revealed his Polish midfielder, Mateusz Klich was running on average 12km per game, including 1km of intense sprinting.
‘I like to do it,’ Klich told the Yorkshire Evening Post. ‘It is enjoyable.’
If Leeds struggle to maintain their prodigious work rate as the season develops, it will not be through a lack of effort.
And the challenge Leeds are bringing to the established order of the Premier League has pundits licking their lips at the prospect of further epic end-to-end encounters.
Phillips and the Leeds’ back four are trusted to defend while five attacking players push on
‘For the neutrals, they’re going to be brilliant to watch because it’s such a unique and different way of playing that the manager encourages them to do,’ Alan Shearer said on BBC’s MOTD2.
‘It’s risky in football but it works for them because they’re so fit as well, which they have to be because they have to get all over the park. The running they do is incredible.’