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Marcelo Bielsa – A Unique Style of Coaching

Marcelo Bielsa steered Leeds United back into the Premier League. We take a look at his unique style of coaching, that has influenced many coaches worldwide such as Pep Guardiola, Mauricio Pochettino and Gerardo Martino!


Marcelo Bielsa eBook

eBook – Marcelo Bielsa – Coaching Build Up Play Against High Pressing Teams

Learn to Coach “The Bielsa Way” – Building Up Play Against High Pressing Teams with 9 Full Sessions (35 Practices) based on 9 Game Situations from the Tactics of Marcelo Bielsa.


Marcelo Bielsa’s Coaching Style This 3-3-3-1 formation allows the team to create numerical advantages in specific areas of the pitch to break through pressure and then create favourable situations in attack i.e. 4 v 3, 4 v 4, 5 v 4 etc.

The key to Bielsa’s tactics is the movement, rotations and quick combination play. The players must work hard to move the ball to the free player and create available passing lanes to play forward. At times when Bielsa has not had defenders with a high technical level at his disposal, he has used midfield players in defence to make sure that his team is fully capable of playing out from the back under pressure.

Marcelo Bielsa’s unique tactics and attractive style of play have affected football far beyond his own personal successes. He has taught and influenced players and coaches that he has worked with (and not worked with) and they have then implemented elements of his coaching style into the training of their teams. These include Pep Guardiola (Barcelona, Bayern Munich & Manchester City), Mauricio Pochettino (Espanyol, Southampton & Tottenham Hotspur), Gerardo Martino (Barcelona & Argentina) and Jorge Sampaoli (Chile & Sevilla).

Marcelo Bielsa
Marcelo Bielsa during a press conference – photo by Alejandro Vásquez Núñez

Marcelo Bielsa is a student of the game and is well known to analyse hours and hours of games to decipher any new tactical concepts. He is said to have no equal in his work and tactical knowledge – this is what keeps him progressive, as he believes the game is always changing and tactics/style of play can always be improved. He creates videos for individual players and has long discussions with each of them to explain their exact roles and responsibilities they have in all different tactical situations. For building up play,

Bielsa focuses on creating space, dragging opponents away and timing movements to receive or act as a link player. This work is then applied on the training pitch, as each combination and pattern is worked on repeatedly. Each pass and movement is choreographed within a set phase and done over and over again, until Bielsa’s players are able to perfect it. This is why, when you watch his teams, the same patterns are observed and you can see the method being actualised.

Marcelo Bielsa’s Philosophy

Marcelo Bielsa is famous for his playing philosophy which is based on building up from the back, even when playing against a team which presses high up the pitch. For a team to be a successful by building up play from the goalkeeper, skilful defenders are needed.

At times when Bielsa has not had defenders with a high technical level at his disposal, he has used midfield players in defence to make sure that his team is fully capable of playing out from the back under pressure.

Marcelo Bielsa’s Attacking Philosophy

Marcelo Bielsa’s playing philosophy includes the following:

  • A mix of short and long passing.
  • Moving the ball to the free player through ‘link players’.
  • Attempts to drag opposition players out of position.
  • Attempts to stretch the opponent’s lines either vertically or horizontally and exploit the gaps created.

Marcelo Bielsa’s First Aim

When building up from the back, Marcelo Bielsa’s first aim is to provide an available passing option to the goalkeeper. In order for this to be achieved against a high pressing team with 2 forwards, the formation of his team is changed from a 4-2-3-1 to a 3-3-3-1 (attacking option) or the 3-4-3 (more defensive option).

When building up play against teams with 1 forward, Bielsa opts to stick with the 4-2-3-1 formation, but one central midfielder will often drop back if the team wants to switch the play.

Marcelo Bielsa’s Second Aim

The second aim is related to the opposition’s defensive positioning:

  • If the ball is moved near the sidelines, Bielsa’s teams attempt to create and exploit a 3 v 2 numerical advantage on that side.
  • If the ball is forced towards the centre, through passes are played to players trying to receive between the lines or into the available space which has been created.

Marcelo Bielsa eBook

eBook – Marcelo Bielsa – Coaching Build Up Play Against High Pressing Teams

Learn to Coach “The Bielsa Way” – Building Up Play Against High Pressing Teams with 9 Full Sessions (35 Practices) based on 9 Game Situations from the Tactics of Marcelo Bielsa.


More about Marcelo Bielsa

This article was taken from the book “Marcelo Bielsa – Coaching Build Up Play Against High Pressing Teams” written by Athanasios Terzis. If you want to know more about Marcelo Bielsa, his philosophy, style of coaching and even implement his coaching into your own training sessions, the book is available as eBook here!

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