Phase of Play
MARCELO BIELSA'S: "MURDERBALL"
Updated: Feb 15, 2021
“Murderball”: the midweek training session which marks Bielsa out from most of the coaches his players have dealt with. It is a source of fascination in Leeds and an exercise Bielsa values above all others. His squad love it, hate it and brace themselves for it. In the experience of some of his players past and present, competitive football is rarely as brutal.
“It (murderball) will be like a normal game, the starting XI against another XI that will be a mix of teams from the players not playing and the under-23s. It’s five six-minute spells and every six minutes, the mixed-up team will be changed. These new players are rested, then come in and run us ragged. The ball doesn’t go out of play, another one just gets chucked in, so you are constantly sprinting for six minutes. At the end, the game is so open, it’s just like basketball". - Ben White
For Bielsa, the session is a riot of physical effort. It is a game of 11 versus 11, broken into segments, but the tactical aspects of it bother him less than the yards his players cover and the ferocity of their sprints. Staff and balls are scattered around the pitch, all of them there to make sure the contest doesn’t stop. As one ball goes out of play, another appears in an instant and sustains the tempo. Murderball is a big part of Bielsa’s working week, building up legs and stamina.
It has its origins at Newell’s, where Bielsa came at coaching with a very personal perspective and an uncompromising approach to fitness. Lunari, one of his trusted midfielders, experienced the same drills in Argentina. They were hard and exhausting but designed to acclimatise Newell’s squad to Bielsa’s hyperactive tactics. And there was a method behind the madness. If Newell’s couldn’t run to an excessive degree, Bielsa’s system wouldn’t work. The exercise coached the body to keep going and the mind to stay switched on. The essence of transitional football.
At Leeds, Bielsa breaks the drill into several segments of five-minute battles. It takes place each Wednesday in the weeks when the club have no midweek fixture. The whole routine is shorter than a standard game but it is played at a pace which exceeds the flow of the average match. Bielsa and his coaching team spread out and watch closely, barking orders as they go, but they are not there to act as referees.
Throw ins and corners don't exist. Fouls don’t exist either, and players go at each other, accepting that tackles and collisions are part of the drill. From time to time, Bielsa will call the squad in for a quick discussion before setting them loose again. Nobody wants to lose or to give any quarter. Everyone knows that his preferred line-up is predicated on what happens in these sessions.
Transitions are crucial moments of the game and that is what Bielsa pays most attention to when practicing "murderball".
"THE ART OF ATTACKING" - Tactical theory and 40 Tactical practices. Coach every style (Positional play, Direct play, Counter-attacking, Vertical play), Coach every attacking phase of play (Counter-attacking, Build up play, Midfield progression, Final third penetration and finishing).