EFL Championship 2019/20: Leeds United vs Derby County – Tactical Analysis
Five months doesn’t seem like a long time for some of us, but it was for both Leeds United and Derby County. Last season, there were times that these two must have thought about their Premier League stature. But eventually, they ended up meeting each other again in the eighth matchday of this season’s Championship.
After their loss against Derby in the playoff semi-final, it felt like Marcelo Bielsa was close to losing his job at the Yorkshire-based club. Still, undoubtedly, he left a big influence on the team that he rejuvenated through his signature fast-tempo style of play. Leeds felt like they needed his service and “El Loco” remained at the club for another year at least. After a positive start to the season, they have had a slight dip in their form, but remain as one of the contenders for the promotion spots.
On the other hand, Derby saw some significant changes to their side. Manager Frank Lampard returned to Stamford Bridge alongside some key players such as Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori. They also lost the service of Harry Wilson, but quickly replaced them with Kieran Dowell, Jamie Paterson and Krystian Bielik. With a new manager in Phillip Cocu on the sideline, they hoped for a good start that would create momentum for them to push on for a playoff spot.
After a tough first half, the away side finally got what they needed through Chris Martin’s equalising goal during the second half’s stoppage time. This tactical analysis will provide an analysis of the 1-1 draw between Leeds United and Derby County. Meanwhile, using statistics, we will point out the standout tactical points in Bielsa’s tactics and Cocu’s tactics.
Bielsa lined his side up in his familiar 4-1-4-1 formation with a view of turning into a 4-3-3 or a 3-4-3 depending on the situation. The home side were left without the services of Adam Forshaw, who missed out through a hip injury. Youngster Jamie Shackleton was given the nod, as he completed the midfield three that already consisted of Kalvin Phillips and Mateusz Klich.
Luke Ayling was also thought to be returning to the squad after the former Bristol City defender featured for the Under-23. But he also missed out as his position was replaced by Stuart Dallas and on the bench was another youngster in Robbie Gotts.
Cocu also chose to line his Derby side in a familiar formation in the 4-2-3-1. Tom Lawrence was absent from this match through a one-match suspension and Florian Jozefzoon filled in his position. They also didn’t have the service of key wing-back Jayden Bogle as he continued to recover from his injury. Another two defenders in Craig Forsyth and Andre Wisdom also missed out due to similar reasons.
Derby’s style of play
When in possession, Derby tended to play out from the back. They positioned deep inside their half as they aimed to link up with goalkeeper Kelle Roos. The players were also able to form at least two passing triangles at the same time, as demonstrated below. Against a high pressing side like Leeds, it is important to narrow the distance between players. This would allow Derby to distribute the ball more easily and fluently.
At times, both Tom Huddlestone and Duane Holmes even dropped deep and got involved in the build-up along with the centre-backs. It allowed the wing-backs to position themselves high up the pitch and acted as two possible passing options in Derby’s attack.
Although they kept the efficiency rate of their build-up process at a high level, Derby defenders faced a big problem that the opposition placed upon them. As expected from a side who is managed by Bielsa, Leeds employed a high and aggressive press after the start of the game. This is one of their trademark tactical points of the Argentinian manager and they constantly used it last season.
The main principle of their strategy was to apply heavy pressure on the ball carrier using two Leeds players. At the same time, other players would also mark the potential receivers surrounding him. To prevent the outcome of making a backpass towards the goalkeeper, the striker, usually, Patrick Bamford, screened the space in front of Roos. This forced the ball carrier to clear the ball out of that area or even allowed Leeds players to capitalise on heavy touches.
This was also one of the reasons that led to Derby struggling to hold much of possession throughout the match. As showed in the possession graph below, their number only reached its peak at 39% inside the first half. Since Leeds constantly win the ball back through their press, the visitors didn’t have much chance to control the ball and execute what they intended.
But as the game progressed, Leeds started to lower their tempo and looked to create solidity at their end, and Derby were able to push their players up. They had 57% and 46% of the ball possession spread inside the last two period of the match respectively. It also allowed them to create chances towards Kiko Casilla’s goal, as three of their chances came from the last minutes of the game.
And they successfully converted one of them into an equalising goal during stoppage time. From a quick counter-attack that occurred on Max Lowe’s left-hand side, substitute Jason Knight’s movement attracted the attention of both Kalvin Phillips and Barry Douglas. At the same time, Knight also became an intermediate player who received the ball from Derby’s left-back and laid it back to him.
This allowed Lowe to continue his overlapping run into the space that Knight created through dragging Phillips and Douglas out of their respective positions. As he sprinted towards the 16-yard box, he noticed another substitute in Jamie Paterson had dropped back and was ready to receive the ball.
While the Bristol City loanee picked up the cross, striker Chris Martin, who was the third substitute to be involved in the goal, made a run around him. There, he picked up the ball from Paterson before slotting it into the narrow space between Liam Cooper and Ben White to secure a point for Derby.
In defence, they opted to go with a more conservative approach when they pressed the opponent. The players didn’t push as high up the pitch and attempted to create an overload surrounding the ball carrier. Instead, they focused on regrouping into their 4-2-3-1 defensive shape and then shifted flexibly based on the ball’s direction.
This allowed them to win numerical superiority inside their half and therefore, had more players to occupy the gaps in between the lines. On several occasions, it was also possible for them to swarm into certain areas which could help them in recovering possession. But since Leeds employed the strategy of progressing the ball constantly through intelligent positioning and pace, Derby didn’t have much chance to cause troubles for the opposition from the overloads.
Inside the second half, though, they were more active in attempting to disrupt Leeds’ build-up using a man-oriented press. Four attacking players would push up and flexibly marked the players that were involved in the build-up process. They didn’t let the fact that Bielsa’s side occasionally encouraged both central midfielders to drop deep hamper their strategy.
Usually, Jack Marriott would combine with either winger to press the centre-backs. They aimed to prevent White and Cooper from creating a passing triangle with Casilla which would allow the ball circulating process to occur more efficiently. Moreover, Holmes was also tasked to follow Phillips as the half-back constantly dropped deep from his position to provide support for his teammates.
Leeds’ style of play
Leeds approached this match with a positive reaction and they showed it in the way they played out from the back. As usual, captain Cooper and White paired up at the heart of their defence with Phillips moving back on most occasions. They aimed to get the ball up the pitch and connected with the midfielders. Meanwhile, both Douglas and Dallas had the option of staying deep and formed a four-man build-up.
Under the pressure that comes from the opposition, Leeds players didn’t show any sign of being nervous. Instead, they created a passing triangle with one of the players positioned farther away from the overloaded area. By doing so, they could easily move the ball away from the markers and continue their build-up process.
On several occasions, Mateusz Klich was also involved in this as the former Utrecht midfielder tended to drop deep. He came short to offer a passing option, allowing him to take the ball up the pitch. This also gave the wing-backs the license to position themselves higher inside Derby’s half.
As Leeds were a wing-oriented team, they usually distributed the ball wide towards the wingers. From inside the passing block, either White or Cooper would send the ball into the winger’s run. That was also the trigger for the wing-back on the same side to overlap and provide support.
After receiving the ball, Jack Harrison or Pablo Hernández had the option of moving into the half-spaces or swapping position with Dallas and Alioski. They aimed to create flexible movements on the flank and confuse Derby’s defenders.
At the other end of the pitch, Hernández and Harrison’s positioning was always worth noticing. They usually located themselves out wide and close to the pitch line as the main purpose of this strategy was to stretch the opposition’s defensive line.
Meanwhile, two central midfielders Klich and Shackleton would move in between the channel and had the license to sit on the shoulders of the defenders. Combined with Bamford in the central area, they created tough choices for the opposition. They had to choose between stretching out wide to mark Hernández and Harrison and leave the central area vulnerable, or staying compact and allowing Leeds wingers to do their job.
Besides their familiar attacking option, they also made the most out of the space behind Derby’s defensive line. Lofted passes were the method that Leeds went with as they aimed most of those into the area behind the defenders’ back. Bamford would be at the end on most occasions to pick it up and sprinted towards Roos’ goal. Constantly, this allowed Leeds to approach the 16-yard box more efficiently and as a result, created more chances in the match.
And it’s no surprise to see the overwhelming number of chances which stood at thirteen that they created towards Derby’s goal. Moreover, they had four chances that were highly-rated in xG with three of them hit the target. But other than that, none of the rest reached the 0.1 mark which showed a slight concern in how Leeds converted those chances.
In their third matchup in five months, Leeds and Derby ended up with a respectable 1-1 draw. But on the field, things have gone a different way as the home side dominated most of the game with their familiar high-intensity style of play. Unfortunately, the only thing that they lacked was a bit of luck in front of goal. Some fans might look back and ask if Klich converted the penalty, how things might have gone differently for them. Nonetheless, they made the top spot theirs and it will be a big momentum boost for them when they travel to Charlton next weekend.
Although they have made an average start, a point against Leeds was something significant for Cocu and his side. At times, they were outplayed and found themselves struggling to create chances. Still, Martin’s goal was enough to help them secure what they needed.
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