With only a few training sessions under their belt with Marcelo Bielsa at the helm, the Uruguay national team is already starting to take on ‘El Loco’s’ identity.
The level of the opposition (Cuba and Nicaragua) always acts as an aspect that will influence speed of development, however the response of the team when interpreting the methodology put in place – in such a short period of time – shows both what has been prioritized, and how it was executed.
A large part of the dynamics seen are still natural and instinctive actions from players, although we can still see patterns and movements in place after required behaviours in Bielsa’s opening training sessions.
Movements of support around the ball and angled crosses towards the far post:
Everything is born from a 4-3-3:
In each situation where a player is allowed to turn without pressure, teammates flood spaces in front of the ball and attack the last line of defence. This causes the opponent’s backline to drop and creates time and space for the player in possession. Once the width of the backline is stretched – concerned with the attacks of the oncoming full-backs and midfielders, support is offered around the ball.
At both 0:20” and 0:43” in the video above, the attacking full-backs and midfielders are followed by opponents; with players now occupying the deep backline, the central-defender is free on the opposite side as spaces are left by the opponent.
From there, passing lines into the final third are open and unblocked with teammates both occupying and arriving into horizontal spaces between defenders and into the penalty area.
One of Bielsa’s hallmarks is working on the diversity of possibilities in relationships between 3-4 players in wide areas. There aren’t 2 identical passages of play because the heights and routes of attack will vary, but there is a pattern that leads them all.
4 different examples:
1st clip: central-midfielder (Zalazar, #16) drops to be in line with the full-back, attracting an opponent and allowing the central-defender to play straight over and find the winger isolated in a 1v1.
2nd clip: The winger drops deep and the central-midfielder attacks the vacated space (0:42”) to be an option for a pass in-behind, or give the winger space by occupying the oncoming defender.
3rd clip: central-midfielder detaches from player in possession and moves towards the wing (1:15”). With an opponent blocking the direct passing line – preferring to stay compact – he is found following a 3rd man combination.
4th clip: Central-midfielder peels into same wide channel as before, however this time he receives the ball to his feet, attracting the opposition full-back, and plays an instinctive pass around the corner into the now free winger.
In all the examples above we see other instantaneous clicks once the advantage is achieved:
The attacking-midfielder dismarks from inside-out to give an option of depth in-behind defenders (Arezo at 0:23” and 2:05”). The opposite central-midfielder attacking vacant spaces inside penalty area (0:25”, 0:50”, etc).
‘Arrivals’ of opposite central-midfielder:
Another of the typical behaviours from Bielsa’s teams is to integrate a fourth player coming from afar to join play. His Leeds United team executed such overloads with extreme precision.
Let’s look at 3 different examples:
At 0:35” and after a side-side pass that made the opposition drop deeper, but found no spaces to penetrate, Facu (right central-midfielder, #11), crosses the pitch to get closer to the left-hand side and create an overload.
With Canobbio (left central-midfielder, #14), behind the ball and with Facu in front, a double ‘attack-height’ is created within the same channel and a free pass is then found.
At 1:02” or at 1:35”, a similar dynamic is seen, although at an earlier point in the build-up, used more as an initial start and not as a solution if space isn’t found.
Canobbio drops to create a base to the attack as the build-up is starting on his side, in turn stretching the vertical distances between opponents, and Facu arrives into spaces to create overloads.
In this case, it’s a spontaneous dynamic of the game but also interesting:
If we look at 0:07”, Canobbio appears as a left central-midfielder, but seconds later he has moves across as the midfield couple have rotated with Facu coming to the left, and space has been created to receive and turn.
Engagement of full-back with direct passes into highest winger to then exploit vacated spaces:
Central-defenders look to play directly into the ball-side winger, who drops slightly, allowing the full-back on the same side to attack inside spaces.
From there, intentionality, timing and intensity in all movements in front of the ball is the real key.
Opposite central-midfielder attacks backline, causing opposition to drop or stay deep, and the central-midfielders around the ball then offer immediate support to progress play (0:23”and 0:47”)
If play can’t be progressed on the same side then the pivot is picked out, and the opposite winger is quickly found with a switch of play, creating a 1v1 scenario.
Movements on the last line:
At 0:21”, a synchronised combination of movements on the last line give immediate support to the player on the ball and also supplies depth with a run in-behind. The winger starting in the space between the opponent’s right-back and right central-defender adapts to attack the space in-behind on the blindside of the centre-back whilst the attacking-midfielder on the opposite side comes to provide a passing option.
If the player who comes to support arrives from the opposite side of the pitch, and isn’t just the closest teammate (who can attack spaces in-behind and ‘fix’ defenders in deep positions) then attacks can be more effective as this concept creates more difficulty for opposition defenders to jump and apply pressure on the ball.
Against ‘lesser’ opponents, and with a somewhat circumstantial call-up without the main ‘stars’ of the team, the first round of internationals shows Bielsa’s extreme efficiency in consolidating his training methodology.
In the link below are the HD editions of each of the videos, available to download.
By Jordi Bacardit – @jordibp29