I'd like to take you thru a journey of soccer education. This will be many emails over the course of many days. These can be the guiding principles that you use to develop your team. The information being shared covers one of my favorite coaches- Marcelo Bielsa.
“If the Opponent attacks with 2, then why do I need to defend with 4 instead of 3….. we will miss the extra player elsewhere on the pitch” - Marcelo Bielsa
Develop Principles through Games
1.) Work Rate - Bielsa’s team’s are renowned for their work rate and consistency in high levels of physical performance, often achieving high levels of high speed running
2.) Overload +1 - Bielsa is adaptive to his opponent and believes during build up play you should match the opponent +1 extra player I.e create a 3v2 or a 2v1 not a traditional 4v2
3.) Rotation - Bielsa is reliant on rotation, rotation among individual, players should be able to play key positions, more offensive players in defensive positions. But movement and interlinked double movements are key to his philosophy, creating space an playing through
4.) Pressing - Bielsa is famous for football for creating highly creative and energetic pressing systems that are complex in nature and extremely effectively stopping teams play successfully
Develop Principles through Games
In his most recent coaching role with Leeds united, Bielsa’s pressing system that he has been revered for through his career, has played a huge role in his teams success. Bielsa’s pressing system is often described a zonal-Man marking system, this often confuses coaches as it is directly a mix of two pressing systems, combined with an extremely high defensive line, their system looks to overload the opponent in all areas of the pitch and making any kind of forward passing extremely difficult . His pressing system provides a flexible man-to-man system, with a clear spare player, this allows for what is referred to as a ‘cover press’ this ensures that if players lose the 1v1 that the man-to-man system creates, the covering player will be able to deal with that, in the diagram below this can be seen with the key ‘Shadow Cover’ sitting on the shoulder of the right back to ensure that the opponent can not travel towards goal. Bielsa’s Pressing is extremely reliant on the mentality of his players, the German pressing term ‘Gegenpressing’ is extremely similar to the system used by Marcelo Bielsa, this type of pressing occurs very quickly after the defensive transition, this Genenpressing. System challenges players to make quick mental reactions to the loss of possession, and to instantly apply pressure to the player who has gained possession for the opposition, by applying intense and immediate pressure, the opponent risks losing the ball due to the lack of structure in their attack and the lack of time in possession of the ball. Gengenpressing systems rely on players to perform a mental task very quickly and apply pressure, but his team mates around him must perform highly important roles, when transitioning towards the opponent, the player must not only apply pressure to the man in possession, but must also block passing lanes and prevent the opponent finding a pass, especially a forward pass. If the supporting press, is not quick enough, or fails to block the passing lanes, the opponent will play through the press, if the opponent is able to play through the press, the space left behind will be an overload for the opponent and thus leaving them the opportunity to attack Bielsa’s teams goal. Pressing is a moment of the game that requires consistent training and the principles must be enforced consistently, his outlandish and emotional personality helps install the identity in his pressing that he requires, the players should work as hard in the pressing moment’s as any other moment of the game it should be a principle to your team, that defines them.
The Rotation Movement Throughout the Team Effects The Opposition
The Rotation Bielsa’s rotations play a key part in his philosophy, the rotations are key in causing chaos in the opponents structure. El Loco states their are two reasons for the consistent rotations, 1.) To create opportunities to play forward, to create space within the oppositions shape to allow the passes between the opposition lines and opposition units 2.) The second reason is to allow for counter-pressing to exist, by ensuring that players are placed closer together on one side of the pitch. You naturally create an overloaded area of the pitch, this shortens the pass length, naturally making it easier to try and win possession back if the ball is lost, this create a strong side and a weak side.
This then dictates the way in which Bielsa plays in the strong and week side are created, the team will likely build up using short passes and quick passing combinations, if the structure isn’t created and the counter attack is available the ball will likely be hit direct.
Rotation confuses the opponent and creates space
The Rotation Rotation is also key within the playing system, in order to create the overload +1 rule that Bielsa so commonly relies on, midfield player have to be comfortable dropping in to different lines to create this overload, this is also asked of the ’10’ within the 1-3-3-1-3, how can he drop in to the 3 to create a 4, and also how can the wide players rotate with the full backs to create overloads against the opponent. Players are also challenged within the philosophy as Bielsa commonly plays more attacking minded midfield players in his defensive unit, Bielsa is a huge believer that these more creative players can have a more attacking approach when passing out through the thirds and these individuals can perform this with a greater level of performance.
Freedom within Framework
The Structure in Freedom Bielsa has made many comments about how he believes his system is unbeatable but the it's the human element of performance that limits the performance level, famously he once said “If football was played by robots, I’d win everything”. However this statement doesn’t do just to who and what Barcelo Bielsa is his information and level of detail may provide an almost robotic approach, however this can have quite the opposite influence, Maricio Pochettino once said that Bielsa inspires a lifelong love and interest for the game, and this relates to his level of detail. The information overload and the detail that Bielsa provides players on their opponent, both technically, emotionally and tactically helps fire a life long drive to want to learn and to be inspired to understand more about the opponent. This creates a real mixture of mechanical and automated players with the ability to be creative and to respond to moments in the game that are unique and random, Bielsa himself has commented to say that “Totally mechanized teams are useless” and this is because within his philosophy he is completely aware of the lack of ‘Script’ That football provides.
Tomorrow we will talk about the individual roles that each player exhibits under Marcelo- thanks for reading.