Marcelo Bielsa’s “Murderball”

Once described as “harder than a Championship match” by a Leeds United player, this training session has people talking and players out of breath. But what is “murderball”?

The name “murderball” comes from the 2005 documentary about wheelchair rugby. The documentary goes follows the US team between 2002 and the 2004 Paralympics in Athens, it is a very personal documentary about the players playing one of the most dangerous sports in the world.

Marcelo Bielsa is very meticulous and is incredibly physically demanding of his players. One way he gets his squad up to his standards is “murderball” or as Pontus Jansson described it, “killer ball”.

There are two teams of 11 and one ball. It is essentially a game of football, but you can’t stop running. When asked about it, Liam Cooper said “We usually do four- or five-minute segments. It’s organised chaos. The running stats are the highest they’ll ever be all week.”, it is easy to understand why the players have given the session such an intense name.

During the session, the players won’t get a breather, even if the ball goes out of play. There are members of staff around the pitch with another ball. Depending on the session, it can last between four or five minutes and 20 minutes. During it the staff will be shouting commands at the players and demanding more.

As clubs get closer to their weekend match, their training sessions tend to be easier on the players. The drop in intensity and extra rest time is to reduce risk of injuries and allow more tactical meetings with the players. Marcelo Bielsa doesn’t do this, instead he turns the intensity up. If Leeds have a game on the Saturday, “murderball” will happen on Thursday and instead of taking time out of training sessions to brief the players, they just keep them at Thorpe Arch for longer.

“Its hell for leather,” said Leeds United midfielder Adam Forshaw. “The manager is on us to really put the effort in. He feels it really sets us up really well for the weekend. We probably moan about it at times but its definitely helped.” and he really is correct when he says it has helped.

The training method not only improved (match) fitness but also match sharpness as they are playing as such high intensity for minutes at a time. The improvements are day and night. In the 2016/17 Championship season, Leeds finished in 13th place with 60 points whilst in Bielsa’s first season (the following campaign) Leeds finished third spot with 83 points. Before the campaign had to be stopped due to the corona virus, Leeds were averaging 1.92 points per game, up by 0.12 from last season which was up by 0.5 the season before.

In 2019/20, Leeds are fifth for interceptions and third for tackles despite averaging the most possession in the league, compared to the season before the Argentine arrive it is chalk and cheese. In the 2017/18 campaign Leeds were conceding 1.28 goals per game and scoring 1.39 per game compared to 0.81 conceded and 1.87 scored per game in 2019/20. This improvement has happened with the squad hardly changing, meaning near enough the same squad have gone from midtable to the best team in the league in a short space of time because of the manager.

Marcelo Bielsa has used “murderball” at every club which has led to him having a remarkably successful managerial career. Obviously due to the demand and intensity, his sides tend to “burn out” but that is yet to happen at Leeds, have Leeds found the manager they’ve been crying out for? And has Bielsa found his second home?

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