EFL Weekly: Gameweek Roundup 16 September

As the first international break of the season draws to a close, the EFL marked its return to a full complement of fixtures in a predictably unpredictable fashion.

As the first international break of the season draws to a close, the EFL marked its return to a full complement of fixtures in a predictably unpredictable fashion.

Yet more unbeaten records bit the dust in shocking and dramatic circumstances, whilst there were also goals, surprises and talking points aplenty across England’s second, third and fourth tiers.

But who were the big winners and losers of this mid-September weekend?

Championship

2018 EFL Championship Football Birmingham City v WBA Sep 14th

The majority of talk surrounding the Championship over the international break had been about possible point deductions for both Birmingham City and Bolton Wanderers, for differing reasons.

News surfaced in the last week that the Trotters were set to enter administration, and with it, be handed a 12-point penalty in the league as a result, whilst fellow relegation candidates Birmingham were set to receive the same punishment for breaching the EFL’s profitability and sustainability rules.

Bolton managed to see their sanction scuppered due to a late deal being reached over the payment of a debt to the club’s main creditor, BluMarble Capital, but for the Blues, dark clouds and uncertainty continue to linger over St Andrew’s, despite an impressive showing in the Friday night fixture – a local derby against West Bromwich Albion.

It was the first time Birmingham had met their West Midlands rivals in a league encounter for over seven years, and Garry Monk’s side went into it without a victory against their cross-region opponents since 2006.

They did manage to get off to the best possible start however, despite their winless start to the season.

After dominating early proceedings, Jota got on the end of a Lukas Jutkiewicz knock-down to squeeze an effort in from a tight-angle at the back post, and just moments later, the Spaniard had a golden chance to make it two.

Kyle Bartley bizarrely handled a cross in the area which gifted Jota and the Blues an opportunity from the spot, but former Aston Villa man Sam Johnstone was equal to it, and Monk’s men were later made to pay – and not for the first time in 2018-19.

With little over five minutes remaining of the first half, full-back Kristian Pedersen – whose £2-million summer capture could also leave Birmingham in hot water for breaching the terms of their transfer embargo – sloppily lost possession after initially gaining it back from Matt Phillips, and the powerful winger finished calmly under goalkeeper Lee Camp.

Birmingham may have looked impressive, but it was Albion who went closest to nicking the points in the second half, as Harvey Barnes cannoned one off the crossbar.

Ultimately it ended a goal apiece and another story of what might have been for the Blues, but it was still a point that keeps them out of the bottom three – for now.

As for Bolton, there may have been good news earlier in the week for the Whites, but none so on Saturday as they went down 2-1 at home to Steve McClaren’s QPR, who are enjoying a mini-revival with two wins from their last three.

In the upper echelons of the division, Leeds cling onto top spot and keep their unbeaten run alive thanks to a last-gasp equaliser from Manchester City loanee Jack Harrison at Millwall.

The 1-1 draw at the Den means Marcelo Bielsa’s side remain the only team yet to taste defeat in the Championship this campaign, as an uninspiring Middlesbrough lost 1-0 at Norwich.

Leapfrogging Boro are Brentford and Bristol City, who both enjoyed home wins and clean sheets against Wigan and Sheffield United respectively. The impressive Bees sit second, whilst Lee Johnson’s Robins have won four in a row after failing to win any of their first three.

Derby drop out of the playoffs as new manager Frank Lampard saw Tom Lawrence sent off during their defeat to Rotherham, and they’re replaced in the top six by Swansea who drew a blank against the Rams’ local rivals, Nottingham Forest.

At the other end of the table, Reading leapfrogged opponents Preston after a 3-2 win at Deepdale earned them their maiden win of the campaign, whilst Ipswich remain rooted to the bottom after a 2-0 loss at Hull which sees the Tigers pull away from the bottom three.

In the remaining match-ups, Sheffield Wednesday came from two goals down to draw against Stoke at Hillsborough, and it’s now six-games without a win in all competitions for Aston Villa, who could only snatch a point in stoppage time at newly-promoted Blackburn.

League One

posh pompey

All eyes were on London Road on Saturday, as the two early pacesetters in League One set out to do battle.

Both Peterborough and Portsmouth went into the afternoon’s eagerly anticipated match with unbeaten records on the line, with the former leading their opposition by two points having drawn one less game.

But despite home advantage, Posh crumbled, and it was Pompey who made the happy journey back down to the South Coast with three points in the bag.

After a goalless first half, Kenny Jackett’s side sprung into life in what proved to be a fatal 15-minute spell in the second period for Peterborough. First, Oli Hawkins got the opener just after the 60-minute mark, and Jamal Lowe made the points all-but-safe with a quarter of an hour remaining – both strikes assisted by the impressive youngster, Ronan Curtis.

Matt Godden got Posh on the scoresheet in the dying embers, but it was too-little too-late for the home side, who fall to defeat for the first time this season, and with it, down into second place behind their visitors.

And they weren’t the only team to lose for the first time this campaign, as the chasing pack in the playoffs all failed to register victories.

Barnsley succumbed to defeat at Coventry courtesy of Jordan Willis’ late goal, which gave the Sky Blues back-to-back wins, whilst Sunderland went down 2-1 at Burton and Walsall let a lead slip to lose 4-1 at home to Doncaster – a result that sees Rovers leapfrog the Saddlers and move into fifth.

Joey Barton’s Fleetwood occupied the final playoff spot heading into the weekend but they now drop out after a 1-1 home draw with Accrington – a result which sees Stanley extend their unbeaten run to seven league games.

Meanwhile, Shrewsbury were the big winners down at the bottom as two first-half goals gave John Askey’s men their first league win of the season at home to Southend, who they move a place above into 17th.

Plymouth seem to be mirroring their poor start of last year, as yet another defeat sees them remain bottom. The Pilgrims lost 1-0 at home to a Blackpool side who received two red cards in stoppage time, but held out to make it nine games unbeaten in all competitions.

Just above the Green Army are Oxford who drew 0-0 at Wycombe, Bristol Rovers’ poor form continues with a 1-0 loss at Luton, and Bradford now join them in the bottom four as a 2-0 home loss to Charlton makes it four consecutive defeats.

Gillingham are hovering dangerously above the drop zone as Ian Henderson’s hat-trick condemned them to a 3-0 defeat at Rochdale, and Scunthorpe complete the League One round-up with a first win for new boss Stuart McCall, as the Iron won 3-2 at AFC Wimbledon to climb the table.

League Two

yeovil newport

Six was the magic number for Yeovil, who won the ‘battle of the early season surprise packages’ in style at Newport to move into the playoffs.

The Welsh outfit went into the weekend on the back of an impressive run which had seen them soar into second place and level on points with leaders Lincoln, but an abysmal afternoon – which also saw half-time substitute Robbie Willmott dismissed late on – was certainly one to forget for manager Michael Flynn.

Darren Way and Yeovil’s 6-0 win also makes it six games unbeaten for the Glovers and lifts them into fifth – just two points behind their hosts – who drop to third.

That result made it advantage Lincoln in the race at the top, and Danny Cowley’s side capitalised in what was a battle between opposing ends of the league at Moss Rose.

The Imps dominated for large spells against struggling Macclesfield and led through Tom Pett, but were pegged back late on by Jamie Grimes’ scrappy goal.

With their equaliser coming seven minutes from time, the hosts seemed destined for a point which would have lifted them out of the relegation zone, but the hopes of the home faithful were dashed soon after by Jason Shackell’s winner.

Exeter are now the Imps’ closest competition, as the Grecians backed up last week’s thrashing of Notts County with an equally impressive win against another Nottinghamshire-based side in Mansfield.

Matt Taylor’s men ended the Stags’ unbeaten start to the season with a 2-1 win at the One Call Stadium, which makes it ten games unbeaten for City at Mansfield – a run that stretches back to 1996.

The loss for David Flitcroft’s Yellows means Forest Green and MK Dons are the only two unbeaten sides left, as the two teams shared the spoils in a competitive game that ended 1-1.

That point wasn’t enough to keep the Dons in the top seven however, as Bury and Oldham both move above them with impressive 2-1 and 3-0 away victories at Swindon and Grimsby respectively.

Colchester retained their playoff berth with a convincing 3-0 win at home to Cambridge, but Carlisle drop out after losing 2-0 at home to Tranmere.

At the bottom, Notts County ended their losing streak with a high-scoring 3-3 draw at home to Stevenage, but will be left thinking what might have been after leading three times at Meadow Lane. The result keeps them at the foot of the table on goal difference.

Morecambe remain just above the Magpies and Macclesfield despite having a fourth straight loss inflicted on them by Crawley, and it’s back-to-back defeats for Northampton, whose ten men went down 2-0 at Port Vale.

The only other game of the weekend and rounding us off was a goalless draw between Cheltenham and Crewe, which sees the two clubs side-by-side in 18th and 17th respectively. The less said about that one the better.

Talking Tactics: Marcelo Bielsa’s Philosophies

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Marcelo Bielsa is quickly winning praise in England for his fast start with Leeds, but who exactly is ‘El Loco’ and why are his philosophies so lavished in the footballing world?

To the shock and delirium of many English football fans, Leeds United appointed ‘El Loco’ Marcelo Bielsa ahead of the new season. Literally translating as ‘the crazy one’, Bielsa adopts an innovative, fast moving style of football that has won him global plaudits from some of the best coaches in the game, including Pep Guardiola, Diego Simeone and Mauricio Pochettino.

Surprisingly, many neutral watchers in England knew nothing of the Argentinian coach, and some still don’t. A couple of months into his spell at Leeds, we have learnt that Bielsa is indeed a very interesting character: he sits on a cooler during matches, is not afraid to make first half substitutions if things aren’t going right and employs a translator to help him with his interviews in a very odd yet admirable style.

Bielsa’s first job in management was with Argentinian club Newell’s Old Boys, who play their football at the stadium now called ‘Estadio Marcelo Bielsa’ in Rosario, Santa Fe.

Taking the job in his mid thirties, Marcelo Bielsa’s meticulous style became evident months into his two-year stint at Newell’s. The dedicated coach racked up circa 25,000 miles in his Fiat 167 as he fled around the country trying to persuade players to join the club. Often, it was his eye for talent that made him stand out from the crowd, as he brought the likes of Gabriel Batistuta and Mauricio Pochettino to the club, both of whom went on to have playing careers at the highest level.

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Just like all revolutionary coaches in sport, Bielsa has a desire for detail. When the Argentine took over at Leeds, this was clear. He installed sleeping quarters at the training ground and went against the norm of English football training patterns, by insisting that Leeds do double sessions with the players allowed to rest in the sleeping areas in between.

In essence, he has transformed Leeds’ training from a couple of hours in the morning to a nine-to-five job, with the players having demanding physical schedules as well as intense lectures in front of a tactics board learning about their next opponent.

Before his arrival, Bielsa watched all 51 Leeds games from last season, so he knew his players inside out. He completely immersed himself in the club and its surroundings, and thus far it is paying dividends, with Leeds flying in the league.

Top coaches such as Simeone, Guardiola and Pochettino swear by Bielsa as one of their biggest inspirations in management. Pep Guardiola visited Bielsa in Argentina before he took the job as a coach at Barcelona B, his first job. In fact, the two spent 11 hours at a barbecue at Bielsa’s Rosario home talking football and tactics.

Why? Bielsa has won a couple of Argentinian league titles as well as guiding Argentina to Olympic glory, but why is he so coveted in the wider footballing community?

“I only believe in Plan A. Plan B is to get Plan A to work”

Perhaps taking inspiration from Bielsa, a vast majority of top coaches in world football tend to stick to their core beliefs and not stray away from them. For example, Guardiola would never ‘park the bus’ based on the opposition in the same way Simeone refuses to depart from his defensive counter attacking game.

Bielsa sees the notion of changing tactics mid game as failure or a sign of weakness. If he doesn’t believe in his own way, why should the players invest so much attention and effort to believe in Bielsa?

That doesn’t mean El Loco is afraid of change – far from it, in fact. In the game against Swansea at the Liberty Stadium a fortnight ago, Bielsa hauled off his key midfielder Kalvin Phillips with not even half an hour on the clock, for tactical reasons. When Leeds needed a goal, it was always going to be one striker for another, rather than throwing Bamford on for a defender and changing the game plan to throwing balls into the box.

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It doesn’t always work. In his early days at Lille, Bielsa made three changes before half time and ended up having to play an outfield player as a goalkeeper, before changing his mind and swapping the outfield player. Lille lost that game 3-0, to Strasbourg. His style is rash and sometimes backfires, but often it works.

As Kanye West would say – “Name one genius that ain’t crazy”.

The famous 3-3-1-3 and more conservative 4-2-3-1 styles

Leeds’ star coach has been hailed in world football for his tactical innovations, namely his eye catching 3-3-1-3 formation, which gained popularity in Bielsa’s Chile, Marseille and Bilbao sides.

The system demands highly demanding pressing, elaborate attacking and fluid transitions that combine for a very exciting style of play.

The eccentric formation consists of: three defenders ample on the ball; a defensive shield in the middle of two inverted wing backs; an enganche; a front three of a target man and two wide men.

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Perhaps most eye catching of the formation is the playmaker just behind the front three: most notable in this role was Dimitri Payet during Bielsa’s stint at Marseille.

This player is given the most freedom and is relieved of pressing duties, thus is the biggest creative outlet in the system. Enganche is the traditional playmaker that is the prompt for attacking moves.

The wide men stay as wide as possible, creating overloads in the wide areas, allowing the playmaker to excel.

The un enganche y tres punta belief galvanized the French league at the time and Marseille fought for the title right until the end, where they were beaten by multimillionaire giants Paris St-Germain.

As is similar with most of the pioneer coaches of attacking football, many forget about the defensive side. Bielsa’s sides are more than equipped off the ball.

Chile adopted a high intensity style around this famous 3-3-1-3 formation and although not littered with talent, the South American nation have over performed in tournaments in the past decade, especially on the continent.

Whilst at Barcelona, Pep Guardiola stated that Barcelona’s draw at the San Mames, home of Bielsa’s Bilbao, was their toughest game of the season. He said that Bielsa’s men played like lions as the Catalan giants struggled to cope with their high pressing.

In that very season, the Basque club earned their way to surprising finishes in the Europa League and the Copa del Rey, achieving the final in both competitions.

It isn’t just the eccentric 3-3-1-3 formation that Loco has up his sleeve, as he often turns to a 4-2-3-1 system with high full backs, which he is adopting thus far in Yorkshire.

Bielsa’s aim is to have one more central defender than the opposition have strikers, which facilitates his high line and pressing style of play, as only one spare defender means there are more players to push forwards.

“Concentracion, permanente movilidad, rotacion y repentization” – concentration, focus, rotation and improvisation.

Even though the shape may look slightly different, the idea and emphasis is the same. The key components are speed, verticality and fluidity: each player is expected to improvise within the system and fill in for one another.

Bielsa swears: “if football was played by robots, I would win everything”. He has a belief in his system that if players carry out his orders of where to be on the pitch, they will succeed.

The robotic comment seems strange, as Bielsa relies heavily on improvisation in situations for effectiveness.

He believes that totally mechanized teams are “useless, because they get lost when they lose their script”. The role of the enganche, in both systems, thus, is crucial.

Whether it be Dimi Payet at that high flying Marseille side in a 3-3-1-3 or now at Leeds, Samuel Saiz, the creativity and improvisation aspect is crucial. The playing style is about movement – you may watch Leeds and not know what position certain players are playing, because they have to be multifunctional similar to Pep’s City, where Kyle Walker pops up all over the pitch in wing back, midfield and centre back roles depending on the situation.

His interesting character and demeanour  

Bielsa has an affinity with fans and tries to drill into his players that they must fight for the supporters who work hard to afford to come and watch their team. He said: “[players] are an extension of fans, [players] are those people.”

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During pre season, Loco wanted to make the players know what it takes to earn a ticket, so made his squad go around litter picking for the time that it takes for the average earner to make enough to afford a Leeds United home ticket.

He believes that he is the boss, but he is separate from the players. The captain, Liam Cooper, was voted for by the players – Bielsa believes the captain is the voice of the players, so he should not have a say in who wears the armband.

What you do on the training pitch win you matches, but the finer details are what win you titles. The small changes Bielsa has made at Leeds will go a long way to making this side better equipped to fight for promotion.

This has always been the case: when at Chile, he changed everything from the dimension of the pitch to the font on the signage around the training complex, because he saw a font he liked at Santiago Zoo.

He speaks adequate English, but does not want his message to come across wrong, so relies heavily on his translator.

These finer details helped setup Chile’s golden generation which won back-to-back Copa America titles – they will be crucial for Leeds in a division which is so often decided on tight margins.

Leeds have started brilliantly, but they have done before. This feels different. Bielsa has a blueprint that he will stick by and the players can only improve, unlike previous years when it was potentially a new manager effect driving improved performances for a short period of time.

The buzz around the city is different and better than it has been for over a decade, with 20000 watching Tuesday night cup ties at Elland Road to see Bielsa’s Leeds in the flesh.

Bielsa has never had vast amounts of money to spend, so his ideas are crucial. He has a system that he believes in – if he can transfer this belief to the players, Leeds will go far.