The second weekend of the English Championship season saw an intriguing matchup thrown into the early round of fixtures. The legendary player turned coach Frank Lampard, pitting his wits against maverick coach Marcelo Bielsa. Both sides opened their campaigns with wins, Lampard’s Derby beating Reading 2-1, and Leeds winning 3-1 at home to relegated Stoke City, respectively.
Derby made two changes to the team that beat Reading, with Fikayo Tomori and Martyn Waghorn coming in for Curtis Davies and David Nugent. Leeds were unchanged from the side that defeated Stoke at Elland Road.
The early stages of the game saw both sides make good use of their full-backs. Max Lowe deployed himself high on the left side for Derby, with both Barry Douglas and Luke Ayling involved in combinations high in the Derby half for the away side. Andre Wisdom, however, was more defensively minded, at times being pinned back by the excellent Alioski. The early stages were very typical of Bielsa from Leeds, high pressure and free movement within the structure when in possession. Derby, however, looked to build from deep, usually Scott Carson distributing the ball to Richard Keogh, although on occasion, the Irishman went long which was easily dealt with by the dominant Leeds centre-halves, Cooper and Berardi.
Evident in the early stages was Leeds’ width when in possession, with both Hernandez and Ayling wide down the right side, Hernandez often on the outside allowing Ayling to take up a position on the right half space. Barry Douglas was also very wide in his positioning, supporting Ezigjan Alioski but also going beyond his teammate on occasion.
On the other hand, Derby’s young left-back Max Lowe positioned himself high up the field in a position to overlap and combine with Tom Lawrence. Lowe also drifted infield looking to take players inside and potentially create space for others on the left. It was the young full-back who, while trying to drive inside from wide lost the ball and allowed Leeds to counter. Mateusz Klich finished the chance off with a wonderful finish from outside the box and put the visitors ahead.
Tom Lawrence who took up a position on the left side but also drifted centrally when out of possession, won the ball and drove towards the Leeds defence, winning a free-kick which he then rifled into the net to equalise for the home side.
The midfield for Derby were high in their pressure, Craig Bryson often the furthest advanced joining Martyn Waghorn. Mason Mount who played as the other 8 for Derby in their 4-3-3, joined Bryson in pressing and attempts to deny Leeds playing out from the back to the flanks. Waghorn was extremely aggressive in his pressing of right-sided full-back for Leeds, with Harry Wilson the same on other side limiting Barry Douglas options and allowing him very little time to make decisions.
Anytime Derby looked to build from deep, Kemar Roofe limited access to the central zones with his press, although on the flanks Alioski and Hernandez were quick to close down any potential Rams’ attacks. Often, Richard Keogh was forced to go long to Martyn Waghorn, who lost aerial duels and lost any opportunity for a knock down.
Leeds have clearly worked hard in pre-season on the Bielsa way. When looking to build from their own box both central defenders split extremely wide, making it difficult for Waghorn and Lawrence to press the large space.
Derby expect Berardi to go across the box, to the wider Liam Cooper. He instead goes through the centre breaking the press and moving up the pitch.
The visitors have a clear way of playing under the former Athletic coach, and it was clear to see that this is well on it’s way to becoming a success. The Yorkshiremen showed that they can break the opponents’ press, press and win the ball in good areas themselves, but also instigate short sharp attacks when counter-pressing.
The job of man-marking Samuel Saiz fell to Joe Ledley, who continually struggled to get really tight to the little Spaniard, this allowed Saiz to drop deep into space and carry the ball forward. Ledley normally very disciplined and strong in his man oriented pressing struggled to stop the Leeds man getting on the ball.
On the other hand, pivotal to Leeds press and winning the ball high was Mateusz Klich, dispossessing Derby in the final third on more than one occasion.
Just before Leeds’ second goal, the space in the central zone must be an issue addressed right away by Lampard. Also pictured, Alioski with a clear access to crossing the ball into the box for the Roofe header.
Under pressure Frank Lampard will look for better distribution from the back, both centre-halves guilty of clearing their lines too quickly and abruptly. This only lead to the ball coming back to them within seconds. This was a major issue for Leeds second goal as Fikayo Tomori cleared rashly to the feet of Barry Douglas who gave it to the unmarked Alioski wide on the left, and from a pinpoint cross, Roofe headed Leeds into another deserved lead.
Derby’s pressing and positioning higher up the field was far better after the break, Waghorn, Mount and Lawrence, in particular, all breaking their strides to aggressively press when Leeds had the ball. What never really changed, however, was the access Saiz had to the Derby backline. This was an issue left unaddressed by the new Derby boss.
Often, Max Lowe would step out to press and be easily beaten, giving the away side easy access to the right-hand side of the pitch, as the near side number 8 wasn’t quick enough to move over and offer cover.
Both Saiz and Klich were involved in the goal which effectively won the game for Leeds, Saiz persevering after a tackle on him. The ball was won and released to Klich who found Kemar Roofe, and poor Derby defending allowed him to find the roof of the net.
A massive disappointment for the home side will be the amount of times Saiz and Klich were allowed access to their backline and space between the lines.
Martyn Waghorn was at times isolated in his pressing, although at times joined by only one of the 8s, Mount or Bryson. This allowed Leeds easy access to the central areas or allowed them to be slightly more direct and bypass these areas with time to find someone higher up the field.
Another disjointed defensive phase allowed Leeds to finish off a quick move with a header from the busy Alioski, who will be a big part of Bielsa’s plans. Leeds continued to exert their dominance with roaming and good positional movements through the thirds by players, giving them numerical advantages but also exploiting weaknesses in Derby’s structure.
As the half wore on and Derby grew more frustrated even more gaps and spaces opened up between the lines for the creative players like Saiz, which really should have resulted in a heavier defeat for Lampard and his team.
Frank Lampard and Jody Morris will and should be extremely alarmed at the number of times Leeds breached their defensive structure. Their press was broken far too easily and players seem to be disjointed in a system which only offered Leeds encouragement to go and exploit. The signings have been good and clearly after more work and time together the fluidity of the team and results might start to grow stronger for the former Chelsea man.
As impressive as Leeds were, with a tactical genius in their midst, it will be interesting to see whether they can maintain form and performances like the last two in the league. Bielsa teams are renowned for flagging as the season goes into the business end due to the intensity he demands. If that can be kept to a minimum and results continue I believe they can be a Premier League team again under ‘El Loco.’