Sheffield Wednesday: Five things the Owls must do to beat Leeds United
Bielsa's team are flying high once again – but they can be beaten
A Yorkshire derby between Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United is always a big occasion, but this one has more riding on it than most.
Both sides could sit at the top of the table with a positive result, and The Owls know that they will leapfrog their opponents with a win.
Gaining victory won’t be easy though, and Garry Monk has his work cut out to mastermind a win over his old club. Here’s what he’ll have to do to outwit Marcelo Bielsa:
Work hard, and run *a lot*
Marcelo Bielsa is a famous disciplinarian, and a pre-season under his management involves as many as three training sessions a day to ensure that players can implement his high-energy style.
Bielsa doesn’t accept any less than 100% from his players, and it shows. Leeds are sure to cover every blade of grass on Saturday, and Sheffield Wednesday will have no hope of gaining a positive result unless they match their opponent’s work-rate.
Make the most of set-pieces
Leeds United boast the tightest defence in the Championship at this stage, having conceded only eight goals in 13 matches this season. That may sound daunting to Owls supporters, but there is hope, as Leeds do have a defensive achilles heel in set-pieces.
The side from West Yorkshire have conceded half of their goals this season from set-pieces, with corners a particular vulnerability that has already been exploited by Swansea City, Nottingham Forest and Charlton Athletic.
The summer departure of Swedish international Pontus Jansson robbed Leeds of much-needed height in their defensive line, and Sheffield Wednesday could well find joy if they put pressure on goalkeeper Kiko Casilla, who can be erratic in his decision making.
If Sheffield Wednesday do manage to breach the Leeds defence, don’t be surprised if it is from a set-piece.
Of course if Wednesday manage to score they will still have to shut Leeds out, which leads on to the next point..
Be prepared to concede possession and sit back
Leeds United have averaged 64.5% possession in their Championship matches, so it is fair to say, they like to keep hold of the ball.
Teams that have tried to throw the kitchen sink at Leeds have seen limited success, with Bristol City and Stoke City paying the price for adopting an attacking approach with respective 3-1 and 3-0 defeats.
On the other hand, some sides have found success by sitting deep and absorbing pressure from Leeds in the hope that they run out of ideas. It isn’t pretty, but it is effective - Leeds’ highest games in terms of possession have often been matches they’ve lost.
Marcelo Bielsa’s system thrives on exploiting space, so if Sheffield Wednesday can swallow their pride and approach the Leeds game like they are the away team and sit deep, they may find luck in neutralising the visitor’s attack.
It must be said that this is easier said than done – Leeds have still managed to create more ‘big chances’ than any other side in the division.
Utilise Kadeem Harris on the counter-attack
As part of Bielsa’s system the full-backs are expected to join in when Leeds are on the attack. Whilst there is logic to this from Leeds’ point of view, it does mean that the two full backs leave a big space behind them, which can be exploited by a quick counter-attack.
In Leeds’ last game their left-back Gjanni Alioski mishit a cross whilst attacking high in the opposition half. Alioski had been instructed to push high up the pitch by Bielsa, but the gung-ho move was ruthlessly exploited by Preston North End, who launched a speedy counter-attack down Alioski’s side which ultimately led to a goal.
When you have to play on the counter-attack a quality winger is essential, and in Kadeem Harris Sheffield Wednesday have found a gem.
Full of pace and intelligent movement, it will be Harris’ job to exploit the space behind Leeds’ right-back Luke Ayling – he will need to make the most of his opportunities.
Repel Marcelo Bielsa’s famous overloads
Throughout his career Bielsa has used overloads in the wide positions of the pitch to create chances.
Put simply, the Leeds United players rotate positions regularly, and many of their chances come when they ‘overload’.
For example, as many of four or five of Leeds’ players could move over to the left side of the pitch, forcing the opposition defence to shift over to the same side to cover the overload.
This is dangerous for Sheffield Wednesday in two ways, as Leeds can either use their numerical advantage to create a chance on the left hand side, or take advantage of a spare Leeds man likely to be standing on the opposite wing – Bielsa’s side attack in numbers.
Overloads are very hard to defend against, and Sheffield Wednesday will have to be on top form to deal with them.