Football

Expect tactical battle at Elland Road

Guardiola v Bielsa offers mouth-watering clash of attacking ideologues

EPL
LEEDS UNITED MANCHESTER CITY

For those who view football through the prism of tactics and coaching, there is probably no fixture that will whet the appetite as much as Sunday morning’s (Singapore time) English Premier League clash between Leeds United and Manchester City at Elland Road.

Such is the stature of Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa and City boss Pep Guardiola that the framing of the match as a battle between two coaches is entirely justified.

Argentinian Bielsa has transformed Leeds from a team stuck in a long battle to get out of the second-tier Championship into one of the most fascinating to watch in the EPL.

Guardiola’s impact on City is well documented, with the Spaniard winning two league titles for the club while introducing his trademark passing style.

The former Barcelona coach is an obsessive student of the game and before embarking upon his coaching career, he visited Bielsa in 2006 at his ranch outside Rosario, on the advice of his former AS Roma teammate, Argentinian striker Gabriel Batistuta.

A long conversation about the game followed – over meats roasted on an open fire – and the pair have maintained a mutual respect ever since.

After Leeds won promotion last season, Guardiola said of Bielsa: “He is unique in world football because of the special way he plays. 

“I learnt a lot about his style, his final product. He’s an incredible person, so special.” 

It would take an academic paper to do justice to the similarities and differences between the way the two men approach tactics but there are, of course, other factors at play on Sunday.

Leeds have made a fine start to life back in the top flight following a 16-year absence. After a thrilling 4-3 loss at champions Liverpool on the opening day, they have since beaten Fulham and Sheffield United.

City are bruised from a 5-2 home defeat by Leicester City, which raised more questions about their defensive troubles, although the signing of Portugal defender Ruben Dias for a reported 68 million euros (S$108.9m) from Benfica should help address those issues.

Viewers can expect an intense game, with goals and plenty of camera pans to the two managers, and there will be a similar focus on the two men on the bench at Old Trafford on Sunday.

Tottenham Hotspur manager Jose Mourinho returns to face Manchester United, after leaving Old Trafford in 2018, with his successor Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in need of a win to kick-start his side’s campaign.

United’s victories at Brighton & Hove Albion in the EPL and League Cup this week have quietened the discontent of their fans over the club’s transfer inactivity but, with the window closing on Monday, the respite may be short-lived. – REUTERS

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