A crunch game at the top of the Championship is a good time to start being able to finish off your chances. Well, ideally it’s something that you’d be doing all season. Although with Leeds, it can never be that straightforward.
In the end, however, a match against third place Fulham – key challengers for automatic promotion – towards the end of the season is a pretty good game to start finding that clinical edge.
Patrick Bamford after having a graphic displayed by Sky Sports pre-match highlighting his woes in front of goal compared to Aleksander Mitrovic, cooly slid in Leeds’s opener from the edge of the area in the 10th minute.
True to form, Marcelo Bielsa decided that despite scoring, Bamford’s all-round game was not good enough and hooked him at half time. Him along with Helder Costa, who provided the assist.
It felt like a true ‘Bielsa’ moment – valuing the system and team above all else. Subsequently, it worked a treat as Costa’s replacement Ezgjan Alioski grabbed a second on the break. Just before fellow half time substitute Pablo Hernandez provided a gorgeous pass to set Jack Harrison free for a third.
The Whites were clinical, incisive and displayed calmness when openings presented themselves. So, after a season of struggling to put away chances, why did Leeds suddenly click in front of goal?
Leeds have had the most shots per game in the league with 16.3. They’ve also had the most on target with 5.2 per game and the most off target with 7 per game. They’ve even hit the woodwork more times than any other side in the Championship – having struck it 15 times this season.
Swarming teams, dominating possession (Leeds’s average of 59.7% is the highest in the league) and creating chance after chance yet missing them has become typical for the Whites.
Yet against Fulham on Saturday, they scored three goals despite having far less shots than their average of 16.2 – only managing 10 attempts. Of these 10 shots, however, half were on target – a far better ratio than their average.
Of these five shots on target, three were scored. It far outstrips their usual shot conversation rate of around 13% for the season.
The answer to this puzzle is indicated by the possession stats from this game.
In sharp contrast to most of their matches this season, Leeds only had 43% possession. This meant that they were playing on the break more often than usual, something which can often lead to a higher quality of chance being created.
In most games, the opposition tend to accept that Leeds will dominate the ball and fall back in numbers to defend. Leeds’s excellent possession play and speed with the ball still yields chances in good areas but more often than not the circumstances they are shooting are rather difficult.
Defenders are likely to be snapping at their heels and there will often be bodies to shoot through. Leeds’s players will often only have a split second to get their shot off before a defender comes clattering towards them.
Against Fulham, Bamford was under no pressure as he stepped up to slot the ball accurately out of Marek Rodak’s reach. For their second, a counter attack left Fulham defenders flailing and off balance. This provided Alioski time to steady himself before finishing easily into the bottom corner.
Despite Harrison being under pressure from a defender behind him for Leeds’s third, a higher line than what the Whites usually face gave Hernandez space to pass into for Harrison to have a free run at goal.
Some of Leeds’s most frustrating defeats have come alongside some of their highest possession statistics. They managed 69% against Cardiff last week, 70% in their 2-0 defeat to Nottingham Forest and a remarkable 77% in their 1-0 loss against Wigan. Losses against teams adept at packing the defence and being able to strike directly and on the counter.
Ultimately, Fulham – who have the second highest average possession in the Championship with 58.4% – and their tendency to want the ball gave Leeds the opportunities they desired. Opportunities with more space in behind and more time for Leeds’s players to be able to pick their spots.