On the face of it, Leeds United’s latest signing, Diego Llorente, is something of a head scratcher. It’s believed that the Whites will pay £15-20m to Real Sociedad for the defender’s services, the second time the club has paid a sizeable fee for a centre-half this summer.
In terms of the make-up of Marcelo Bielsa’s first-team squad, it’s two in, two out in that department after Ben White returned to parent club Brighton & Hove Albion and back-up option Gaetano Berardi’s contract expired, with the player unavailable for the foreseeable future regardless after he suffered an ACL tear in the back-end of last season.
If Leeds are to play in the same shape that fans have become accustomed to over Bielsa’s first two seasons in the job – a 4-1-4-1 formation – it would appear that there’s only room in the first XI for one of Llorente and fellow new recruit Robin Koch, a £13m addition from Freiburg.
With long-serving club captain Liam Cooper left-footed – as is increasingly commonplace, the Argentinian tactician favouring the balance that gives – there’s only place for one of the new right-footed centre-halves to slot in next to him.
Given that both Koch and Llorente are full internationals for teams that can have realistic and genuine ambitions of winning the Euros next summer, Spain and Germany, and will be expecting regular first-team football, this could be an issue.
That’s not to mention the allocation of resources. With a finite amount of funds in the transfer market, is it wise to use a large proportion of that for two new faces set to compete for one place in the regular starting XI? Could the money not be better spent elsewhere?
Those are questions and concerns that will have crossed the mind of director of football Victor Orta. But the fact that Leeds are going ahead with Llorente suggests that they might not apply.
There would be a way of getting all £30m+ of Koch and Llorente on the pitch alongside skipper Cooper, and that would be the three specialised centre-halves operating together in a back three – something not at all uncommon in Bielsa’s managerial career.
The 65-year-old coach often used a back three with his innovative and exhilarating Chile side a decade ago, not to mention Argentina before and Athletic Bilbao after, with his name synonymous with a unique and unconventional 3-3-1-3 system in the past.
It’s something we have seen at Leeds, albeit not all that often as most of the Championship sides faced over the past two years have gone with a solitary striker up top, which allows the Whites to play his man-marking system with a back four – allowing a “spare man” to help double up on the opposition’s main offensive outlet.
The same concept applies if the opposition lines up with an old-school strike partnership, with Bielsa’s Leeds usually countering that with a back three – once again, an extra man, 3 vs 2 as opposed to the usual 1 vs 2.
We could be set to see more of this in the season ahead with a number of Premier League sides lining up with two up top.
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