Leeds United braced for full throttle derby as Southampton stats show scale of Bielsa's task

By Joe Donnohue

By now, it comes as little surprise to discover that Leeds United are the Premier League side to have covered the most ground this season.

Last year, the Whites outran their opponents on 37 of 38 matchdays - the exception coming in the 2-1 victory over Manchester City in which Liam Cooper was sent off before half-time.

Similarly, Leeds dominated their direct opponent in the overwhelming majority of matches with regards to high intensity sprints.

This level of exertion in United's players is credited to Marcelo Bielsa, his staff, as well as the rigorous training methods and expectations he imposes upon his squad.

It derives from the 66-year-old's belief that there are few truly level playing fields in football, but one of them is the effort players can exert.

If an individual with less 'natural talent' is fitter, stronger and better-equipped physically to deal with a direct opponent, he or she gives themselves a better chance of neutralising their opposite number's effectiveness.

This season, the Whites have collectively covered 764 kilometres in seven matches, according to football statisticians Opta.

Averaging out at 109 kilometres per game, that means each starting Leeds United player covers roughly 9-10 kilometres on average per match.

While this is commonplace in elite football, the consistency with which Leeds top this particular league table is quite staggering.

Leeds United have run the greatest cumulative distance of any Premier League side so far this season (Opta Analyst)

No team across Europe runs quite as hard as a collective unit, as Leeds.

Since the club's return to the top flight, only Manchester City in the aforementioned fixture have outran Leeds over a 90-minute period - and that was only by a few hundred metres.

This weekend, the team come up against Southampton who are renowned for their high-pressing style under Austrian coach Ralph Hasenhuttl.

Hasenhuttl's coaching credentials with German clubs Ingolstadt and RB Leipzig earned him the Saints job, where he has employed a 'gegenpressing' approach, that remains very much in vogue in Germany.

In order to carry out this system of play effectively, a coach requires a squad fitter than the majority of their opponents, willing to cohesively pressure the opposition into forfeiting possession in dangerous areas.

Therefore, it is no great shock that behind Leeds, the Saints have recorded the Premier League's second-highest number of sprints this season, as per Opta.

Leeds United have made more high-intensity sprints than any other Premier League side this season (Opta Analyst)

Southampton versus Leeds could be coined the 'full throttle derby' given the two sides' level of exertion, but it is a match which also takes on greater significance.

The south coast club remain winless and Leeds have won just once in seven attempts this campaign.

What it will make for is a fascinating contest, where competing ideologies with overlapping elements attempt to best the other.

Leeds' wildcard - but also their best sprinter - Raphinha may not be available to start the game at St Mary's Stadium due to his international commitments.

The forward features during the early hours of Friday morning in Brazil, before needing to make Saturday's 3pm kick-off in Hampshire less than 36 hours after Brazil's match with Uruguay concludes.

Raphinha's suspected absence from the starting XI and Southampton's ability to potentially match Leeds' physical output outlines the the task Marcelo Bielsa faces in combating an opponent who may be deceptively tricky to negotiate three points against.


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