With a new Premier League campaign comes a new trio of managers vying to stay in the top flight.
Leeds United finally reached the top flight after a 16-year wait and did so in convincing fashion thanks to the tactics of manager Marcelo Bielsa. Naturally, they dominated the PFA Championship Team of the Year 2019/20, with Luke Ayling, Ben White, Liam Cooper, and recent England call-up Kalvin Phillips making the cut. Making the leap as runners-up of the second division, the Slaven Bilić-led West Bromwich Albion saw its midfield maestro, Romaine Sawyers, get into the TotY. Fulham rounds out the three newcomers, with Joe Bryan and Aleksandr Mitrovic being selected for the Championship XI after boss Scott Parker led them to a play-off final triumph.
Here, we’re checking out Bielsa, Bilić, and Parker in their managerial roles and the tactics that they deployed to get the most out of their players and dominate in the Championship.
Marcelo Bielsa (Leeds United)
This Marcelo Bielsa mural in Hyde Park, Leeds is 👌👌 pic.twitter.com/yYxS4JCIPx— TEAMtalk (@TEAMtalk) September 10, 2020
Leeds United went through 12 managers in six years, but Paul Heckingbottom’s stint from 6 February 2018 to 15 June 2018 proved to be the end of chopping and changing in the backroom. From the middle of June, Marcelo Bielsa has had the reigns, being given time and money to implement his vision. The Argentine has now been at the helm for 100 games for Leeds, averaging his domestic career-best of 1.85 points per match. ‘El Loco,’ as he’s affectionately known, demands high-energy from all of his players, as shown by EFL Analysis’ deep-dive, featuring a high press, quick passing, and a focus on keeping the ball, which allows him to switch tactics whenever he sees fit.
Slaven Bilić (West Bromwich Albion)
West Bromwich Albion have run through their fair share of managers over the last few years, too, with Tony Pulis’ near-century of matches in charge ushered in a fair bit of inconsistency at the helm. Following four different bosses from 20 November 2017 to 30 June 2019, Bilić stepped into the role at the beginning of last season, guiding West Brom back to the Premier League.
The Croatian has plenty of experience in the top-tier of English football, having managed West Ham United from July 2015 to November 2017 in the Premier League and Europa League, averaging 1.43 points per match. For West Brom, he boasts a record of 24 wins, 17 draws, and only nine losses, primarily using the 4-2-3-1 formation. While Bilić’s set-up is defensive by nature, having two strong passers in defensive midfield helps to vault forward the offence, with Romaine Sawyers’ impressive 90 percent pass percentage while averaging 2.9 long balls and 62.4 total passes per game.
Scott Parker (Fulham)
After getting relegated from the Premier League last season, Fulham made the unusual decision to stick with the manager who the club was relegated under, Scott Parker. In fairness to Parker, he took the reins late in the 2018/19 season. After Slavisa Jokanovic’s spell, which started on 27 December 2015, ended on 13 November 2018, Claudio Ranieri took over for three months before Parker had a few months to attempt the near-impossible. Parker has now accumulated 62 games as a manger (all at Fulham across this one spell), collecting a solid 1.60 points per match. Parker doesn’t use a strategy as elaborate as Bielsa’s systems or as hairpin-aggressive as Bilić’s tactics, instead he utilises a conservative, possession-based approach allowing his XI to maintain their shape and press from the front.
Which new boss will come out on top?
In the Championship, Bielsa trumped Bilić and Parker to the crown, but the Premier League offers a much greater challenge match-to-match. In the calculated predictions of Five Thirty Eight, West Brom have the highest chance of getting relegated, at 42 percent, followed by Leeds, Fulham, and Newcastle, who’re at 31 per cent to see the drop. That said, the oddsmakers see the Peacocks as being far better suited to the league than those calculations would suggest. As of 11 September, Betway has Leeds at 7/2 to get relegated, with WBA as the 19/20 favourites to go down and Fulham just behind at 1/1.
Given the summer they’ve enjoyed, Leeds deserve to be the best-rated of the three, bringing in Robin Koch to fill the hole left by relied-upon loanee Ben White and Rodrigo to deliver some more goals. In a similar line of thinking, West Brom have also had a strong summer. They signed two of their most influential players of last season (who were both on-loan), with Grady Diangana and Matheus Pereira joining on permanent deals. The Baggies also added some competition to their goalie corps in David Button, and have bought a true backline beast in Cédric Kipré from Wigan, who stands 6’4’’ and has an affinity for laying down big tackles. As such, given the strength of the team and Bilić’s experience, perhaps West Brom shouldn’t be rated so lowly.
It’ll be interesting to see which newly promoted manager’s style suits the Premier League the best, but most are looking to Bielsa and Leeds United to lead the way.