Football Expert and Columnist
Jamie Carragher: Breaking down Leeds' man-marking system
Jamie Carragher analyses Marcelo Bielsa's Leeds after their first day back in the Premier League lived up to expectations
Last Updated: 15/09/20 6:08pm
On the first Monday Night Football of the new Premier League season, Sky Sports' Jamie Carragher assessed the defensive system deployed by Marcelo Bielsa in Leeds' 4-3 defeat at Liverpool...
We could have done an hour of analysis from this game - and that's just on Leeds. A lot has been made of how many tackles Bielsa's side made in the game, getting bodies forward - and once they had seven in the box when they almost got a penalty before half-time - but I wanted to look at Leeds defensively.
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If you go back to the late 1980s and Arrigo Sacchi's AC Milan, he was known for changing football with a side that pressed all over the pitch through zonal marking. He changed things from the days of man-to-man marking, but what we saw on Saturday with Leeds was a throwback.
It was not just in certain areas - it was man-to-man all over the pitch. I do not think people like coming up against this system, but there are pros and cons to it.
Where man-to-man marking works
This is an example of the extremes of man-to-man marking. Liverpool have a throw-in in the right-back position - and here is the midfield three of Liverpool and the three of Leeds (inside box). That's man-to-man - wherever my man goes, I'm going to make it difficult for him to get out.
Man-to-man marking is a lot easier when the ball is stopped and you can organise. In free play when people are moving around constantly and you've just got your man, it's really difficult.
The one thing that shocked me watching it was just how far Luke Ayling (circled) was willing to go with Sadio Mane. Look where they end up...
But Ayling successfully stops Liverpool from getting out as he gets a foot to the ball. It works because with the game stopped, the system can be a lot more organised. But this shows the extremes Leeds will go to when one man is on the other side of the pitch.
System leads to Leeds' third goal
The man-to-man system actually leads to the goal which gets Leeds back into the game at 3-3. Again, you can see the three-v-three in midfield (inside box).
Stuart Dallas just gets in front of Mo Salah to intercept the clearance, they then get numbers into the box, there's energy to get forward. When the ball is stopped, man-to-man works.
The pitfalls of man-to-man marking
In the first clip, this is from the first minute of the game. Kalvin Phillips - Leeds' holding midfielder - tracks Gini Wijnaldum all the way and stays with him.
As the ball gets moved around, you have got Liverpool full-back and Leeds winger (bottom of screen), the two midfielders together (second circle), Leeds' right-back that's come inside with Mane (third circle), you have got Roberto Firmino with the centre-back (fourth circle) and Liverpool full-back vs Leeds winger (top of screen).
But if one man breaks it, as Naby Keita does in this clip, does the centre-back go to the ball or does he stay with Firmino? As soon as one man loses his man, Liverpool are in.
System leads to Liverpool's fourth goal
If you look at where the system fails, I think it costs Leeds for the fourth goal. We saw a clip in the first minute, and here's one in the last few minutes. When the ball comes to Joe Gomez (in possession), Kalvin Phillips (circled) has no interest in stopping the ball from being played inside, as almost every central midfielder would.
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All he is worried about is pressing Curtis Jones, which is what Bielsa wants him to do - he hasn't got it wrong as this is the system that they play.
When the ball comes into the feet of Mo Salah, what you have got is a line of Leeds players which is their back four. Conventionally, you would say that is a mess. I don't like man-to-man because I have always been brought up on the other system, but there are pros and cons to it.
Leeds' left-back is in midfield (second circle inside), the centre-back is in midfield (third circle), Leeds' right-back has come across with Mane (fourth circle), and we have got the two wingers in full-back positions (circles bottom and top of screen).
But if one man beats his man, I think a lot of it falls down. Salah goes past his man. Yes, it leads to a corner but it should lead to the winning goal. They get the corner and that's where the second penalty comes from. But it was a fascinating watch and Bielsa said before the game he was not going to change his tactics.
Jurgen Klopp mentioned the man-marking system several times before the game. Liverpool trained for it and Klopp said it felt so alien for both teams in training - the players doing it and the ones receiving it.
It will not be easy to play against it this season, but the way around it is if one man beats his opposite man. As soon as one man is beaten, that's where the system falls down.
Neville hails Leeds' Premier League return
Gary Neville expressed his excitement at Leeds' return to the Premier League after their 16-year absence.
"I think they'll do really well, I think they'll scare the living daylights out of some teams," he told MNF. "They will take a lot of teams, like they did with Liverpool's defenders, to a really uncomfortable place.
"I don't think that group of players could have been managed by anybody else and gain the outcome that they did on Saturday, where they took Liverpool to the point where they conceded three goals, Virgil van Dijk was unnerved, Trent Alexander-Arnold was too and these are some of the best defenders in the world.
"I thought it was a thing of beauty to watch. I think Leeds fans will get exceptional games this season, particularly once they get back into the ground, the atmosphere will be absolutely electric.
"For me, I think it's the fact they made Liverpool so uncomfortable, there's no doubt that they're going to concede goals at the other end of the pitch.
"I imagine it's thrilling as a Leeds player every single day going into that training ground to work under that man [Marcelo Bielsa], to play the game in that way, to have that fearless approach where you're told to go after your man, win the ball back, duels, one versus one - it's a throwback but absolutely outstanding. I haven't got one negative thing to say.
"Liverpool haven't been beaten at home in 60 matches and those players will have come off the pitch on Saturday and they would have thought, 'what was that? What on earth have I just played in?', and they won't have a clue what happened.
"There was no shape in the game and nothing you would ordinarily recognise in a game of football. It was brilliant."