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Most positive Manager v Most negative Head Coach – Bielsa v Bruce and the killer stats

9 months ago

It is Leeds v Newcastle on Wednesday night at 6pm.

A fascinating game awaits.

Two very different approaches in how they set their teams up, it is Marcelo Bielsa v Steve Bruce.

I was going to say two very different footballing philosophies but I think it would be stretching it a little too far to suggest Steve Bruce has got one of those.

A meeting of arguably the most positive manager in the Premier League and the most negative head coach.

Certainly with the players available to the two bosses, it is difficult to get away from that view.

Bielsa has Leeds playing a high quality / high risk game, that involves pressing high up the pitch, encouraging players to keep the ball and to be very mobile in and out of possession, to get forward and try to score goals. Maybe a feeling though that these tactics need a bit higher quality personnel to really pull it off.

Bruce meanwhile favours an approach that relies on keeping as many players as close to the Newcastle box as often as possible, to try and prevent goals, whilst hoping to sneak the odd goal from somewhere going forward. Very unwilling to allow numbers to get forward and no real plan on how to try and create chances and score goals. Some pundits refer to Newcastle as a counter-attacking team but this is lazy and false, Saturday was a massive rarity when NUFC counter-attacked and scored that opening goal when West Brom gifted possession, very very rare that Newcastle even create any chances during a game by counter-attacking, never mind score goals. Instead, it is more of a reliance on finding the odd chances and ultimately, a goal, by hitting hopeful long balls up the pitch, usually from Karl Darlow. Or alternatively, simply giving the ball to ASM and hope he can run from deep in his own half and create something. Maybe a feeling though that these tactics are woefully underselling the Newcastle squad, that the quality of player is there, which would enable NUFC to play a far more attacking style which could / would also win more games than at present.

So what are the stats to back any of this up above, in terms of the Leeds v Newcastle approaches under the respective managers / head coaches?

Well these six sets of season stats so far are all from the official Premier League site, giving a decent background and info as to exactly what is going on this season at the two clubs:

Shots (on and off target):

Shots on Target:


Through Balls:



As you can, very different stats for Leeds and Newcastle, Bielsa and Bruce.

Taking the Leeds v Newcastle stats from the above six tables this is what we have:

Shots: Leeds 174 v Newcastle 98

Shots on target: Leeds 64 v Newcastle 35

Passes: Leeds 6,323 v Newcastle 4,013

Through balls: Leeds 10 v Newcastle 1

Crosses: Leeds 256 v Newcastle 175

Corners: Leeds 64 v Newcastle 46

It always helps using a number of different stats pulled together, rather than just the one set of stats that can often be misleading.

The half dozen different measurements above, producing a compelling case.

For me, the approach of Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds is the right one. Yes it would help if they can add some better quality players in key positions, especially turning chances into goals, BUT they are getting so much right. Usually have the majority of control in the game, producing more passes, crosses, corners, shots, shots on target and through balls than their opponents. If they keep doing this then the goals will flow once again, as they did in their earlier matches, having scored twelve in their opening six PL games but only five in the last six.

As for Steve Bruce and Newcastle United, playing with such little attacking intent and creating so few chances, will eventually catch up with you. As per last season, it has only been Karl Darlow, large helpings of luck and individual moments of quality that have given Newcastle the fairly respectable number of points they have got. Only 52 goals in Steve Bruce’s 49 Premier League matches whilst conceding 74, isn’t sustainable, this season in particular it has been very much a case of Callum Wilson right place right time and scoring with the one decent chance that comes his way in a match.

Newcastle have invested heavily (by Ashley’s standards) on attacking players, including most of the £100m net spend Ashley has allowed Steve Bruce, so it seems crazy not to put more emphasis on the attacking threat that could be provided by the likes of Wilson, ASM, Almiron, Fraser, Gayle, Carroll and Joelinton.


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