MANCHESTER – For those who view football through the prism of tactics and coaching, there is probably no fixture that will whet the appetite as much as Saturday’s Premier League clash between Leeds United and Manchester City at Elland Road.
Such is the stature of Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa and City boss Pep Guardiola that the framing of the match as a battle between two coaches is entirely justified.
Argentine Bielsa has transformed Leeds from a team stuck in a long battle to get out of the second-tier Championship into one of the most fascinating to watch in the Premier League.
Guardiola’s impact on City is well documented, with the Spaniard winning two league titles for the club whilst introducing his trademark passing style.
The former Barcelona coach is an obsessive student of the game and before embarking upon his coaching career he visited Bielsa in 2006 at his ranch outside Rosario, on the advice of his former Roma teammate, Argentine striker Gabriel Batistuta.
A long conversation about the game followed – over meats roasted on an open fire – and the pair have maintained a mutual respect ever since.
After Leeds won promotion last season, Guardiola said of Bielsa: “He is unique in world football because of the special way he plays. I learnt a lot about his style, his final product. He’s an incredible person, so special.”
It would take an academic paper to do justice to the similarities and differences between the way the two men approach tactics but there are, of course, other factors at play on Saturday.
Leeds have made a fine start to life back in the top flight following a 16-year absence. After a thrilling 4-3 loss at champions Liverpool on the opening day, they have since beaten Fulham and Sheffield United.
City are bruised from a 5-2 home defeat by Leicester City which raised more questions about their defensive troubles, although the signing of Portugal defender Ruben Dias for a reported £64 million from Benfica should help address those issues.
Viewers can expect an intense game, with goals and plenty of camera pans to the two managers, and there will be a similar focus on the two men on the bench at Old Trafford on Sunday.
Tottenham Hotspur manager Jose Mourinho returns to face Manchester United, who he left last year, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in need of a win to kick-start his side’s campaign.
Unied’s victories at Brighton & Hove Albion in the Premier League and League Cup this week have quietened the discontent of their fans over the club’s transfer inactivity but, with the window closing on Monday, the respite may be short-lived.
Also on Sunday, Liverpool will look to extend their 100% record when they visit Aston Villa, who have been boosted by the loan signing of Ross Barkley from Chelsea.
Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton have a chance to make it four wins from four at home to Brighton on Saturday while the other team with maximum points, Leicester, host West Ham on Sunday.