Leeds United and Swansea City, two of the teams remained unbeaten in the Championship, faced each other in matchday six. The Yorkshire-based club continued their second season with Marcelo Bielsa and his style of play helped them secure thirteen points up to now. As high confidence growing among the squad, they welcomed Swansea to the Elland Road.
In his first season with a senior team, Steve Cooper had coped well with the expectations that were put on him. Eleven goals and only conceded four, the Welsh club matched Leeds’ record and were followed up in the league table. They picked up their form from the first two matches to secure another three points to the season. Wayne Routledge’s only goal in the 90th minute sent the fans into rapture as they went home in joy.
This tactical analysis will provide an analysis of the match between Leeds and Swansea. Meanwhile, using statistics, we will point out the similarities in both teams’ tactics and how did the home side’s tactics couldn’t secure a win for them.
Returning from their loss against Stoke City in the League Cup, Bielsa switched their lineup back to his favourite 4-1-4-1. Besides from right-back Luke Ayling and striker Tyler Roberts’ absences due to long-term injuries, “El Loco” basically had the strongest players to fill in his lineup. Captain Liam Cooper paired up alongside promising youngster Ben White after the former didn’t feature in the match and the latter appeared on the bench. Barry Douglas was tested in the central midfielder spot last game and he was rested as his place was occupied by Ezgjan Alioski.
Cooper stuck with his 4-2-3-1 formation with some absences to his side. The duo Nathan Dyer and new signing Aldo Kalulu missed out in their earlier match against Birmingham and remained doubtful for this. Nonetheless, he sent out eleven players that were fit to the formation and were able to cope with Leeds’ pressure. No changes were made to both the lineup and the bench in their trip to Yorkshire this time, though.
Leeds’ style of play
As expected from a side who is managed by Bielsa, Leeds attempted to press high up the pitch right from the start. They aimed to win the ball back inside the opponent’s half and created quick attacks that could threaten the goal. With a man-oriented press and the players’ determination, they caused lots of troubles for Swansea’s build-up.
By committing players into the opposite half and consistently changing positions with each other, they were able to mark Swansea attackers and intercepted passes that were made among them. At times, their build-up was pinned down and they were forced to make back passes to goalkeeper Freddie Woodman.
But they took on a more conservative style as they focused on marking the possible passing options rather than running towards the ball-carrier and tackled the ball. If needed, though, they could still be aggressive when Swansea circulated possession inside their half for too long. With at least two players closing in the ball-carrier, he could easily lose the ball if there were no supports around him.
When their press was bypassed, the players retreated into their half and formed a 4-1-4-1 defensive shape. Kalvin Phillips would move between the lines and at times, dropped deep like a half-back. He swept through balls or passes that came towards the defensive line and immediately dribbled up to start an attack. Meanwhile, the two lines would continue the press by creating overloads and prevent Swansea from approaching the box.
That was their plan when Swansea attempted to get the ball into their half, unfortunately, we couldn’t see much of it. The fact that the away side moved the ball too quick on both flanks and some of Leeds players were caught off in their attacks, they could only use their man-oriented press to recover possession.
As good as they were in executing the turnovers, some problems were shown throughout the match. Swansea’s attacking midfielder tended to dribble with the ball at his feet and he attracted the attention of Leeds defenders.
During the process of isolating the ball carrier, they let some of the opposition players ran down the flank. That created at least one passing option for him and he could move the ball out of that area with just a short pass. In the shot below, two players were heading out to the left-hand side to support Yan Dhanda. While Borja Bastón ran further to help to progress the ball, Bersant Celina dropped his pace to act as an alternative passing option in case White managed to close Borja down.
Also, notice the unoccupied area on the right-hand side. If André Ayew spotted that space, he could drift wide and escape the pressure from Alioski. At the same time, the Ghanaian winger was able to receive either a long ball or a through pass from Dhanda. They could have created a very dangerous chance towards Kiko Casilla’s goal.
The second problem that Swansea also capitalised in the match was spaces being created inside their defensive third. Whenever one of the Leeds players moved out of their shape to close the ball carrier down, they left gaps behind their back. This invited the wing-back to overlap into and approached the box easier. The shot below demonstrated one of those situations, with Bidwell quickly overlapped into that gap to receive the ball from Celina.
Amid those problems in defence, they were good in terms of creating chances. During the build-up, two centre-backs formed a passing block along with two central midfielders. As always, Phillips would drop in between Cooper and White to form a three-man build-up. They aimed to get the ball up the pitch and connected with the midfielders.
Adam Forshaw also involved in this as the former Middlesbrough midfielder tended to drop deep. He came short to offer a passing option and allowed him to take the ball up the pitch. This also gave the wing-backs the license to position themselves higher inside Swansea’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 confused Swansea’s defenders.
They were focused on attacking down that right-hand side of Dallas and Hernández, which is shown on the expected threat (xT) heatmap. In terms of making crosses into the box, those two were also top of the table with nine and eight attempts respectively. But that doesn’t mean Alioski and Harrison didn’t have their chances to involve in the team’s play.
The scenario below was one of the situations where they built their attacks down the left-hand side. Against Swansea’s pressure, they used quick combinations between the players to keep the ball moving. Their close positioning to each other allowed them to make one-touch passes and progressive runs constantly while finding gaps to make a shot.
Both Alioski and Harrison tended to use this method to either create chances for himself or the teammates surrounded that area. They also made crosses on a few occasions, registering a total of eight crosses among them.
Getting the ball into the box was one thing while converting those chances was something else. They created an overwhelming number of 21 shots towards Woodman’s goal, but only hit the target twice. None of them were enough to threaten the Newcastle loanee as he held the ball comfortably in all those attempts. There was one time that luck wasn’t on their side, it was when Cooper’s header found the crossbar and his follow-up went wide.
As mentioned, they did manage to create most of their chances inside the box. But most of them weren’t highly rated in xG. In the second half, Harrison and substitute Eddie Nketiah registered two chances that were rated above 0.2, still, it was blocked and went wide respectively.
Swansea’s style of play
Being one of the teams that chased closely behind Leeds’ back, Swansea entered this game without the pressure of an underdog. They were able to do what they have planned and they did exactly that.
When not in possession, the players regrouped into a 4-2-3-1 defensive structure deep inside their half. Four players upfront were responsible for pressing the opposition’s backline. They adopted a man-oriented press and aimed to win the ball back high up the pitch and recovered possession for a counter-attack. The attacking players didn’t press aggressively but would capitalise the hard touches to win the ball back.
Six players below were tasked to stay deep and defended the zone 14 if the ball crossed the halfway line. The overall structure was fairly wide while still hold a sufficient distance between each defender and prevent players from making runs into the spaces between them. They would pin the opposition’s attack down and force them to circulate the ball outside the box. This would allow the other four players to retreat to their half and regroup with the rest to form the defensive structure.
At times, their shape could look like a 4-1-4-1 when Jay Fulton pushed up to press Kalvin Phillips. It would limit the threat that came from the half-back and prevented him from distributing the ball into their defensive third. Furthermore, they also switched into a 4-4-1-1 when they defended the box. Celina stayed higher while Ayew and Dhanda formed the midfield line with two central midfielders.
With a deep defensive line, Swansea were able to swarm the box and prevented short combinations between Leeds players. This is also one of the reasons that the home side couldn’t get most of their shots on goal. Since there were too many players in front of Woodman’s goal, their attempts were mostly blocked or cleared immediately.
They also acknowledged that Leeds tended to distribute the ball wide. Dealing with this, the players attempted to match the home side’s number and stopped them from holding numerical superiority. But their plan wasn’t too efficient as Leeds used quick combinations and created passing triangles to bypass the pressure.
Looking at their recoveries graph, we can also see how deep Swansea defended. They recovered much of their possession inside their defensive third and on the edge of their final third. Even more, the density of positioning recoveries inside the box is quite high and focused on the right side. This leads to the fact that Connor Roberts and Mike van der Hoorn had more defensive works to do. They also led this subject with thirteen and twelve recoveries respectively.
When they managed to recover possession, they faced aggressive pressure from Leeds. The home side pressed very high and wanted to win the ball back as soon as possible. But the defenders remained composed and confident when they were on the ball. Along with two central midfielders, Joe Rodon and van der Hoorn formed a four-man build-up inside their half.
In Rodon, Swansea had a natural ball-playing defender who could make penetrative passes towards the attacking players. His colleague, on the other hand, was a bit safe with where he wanted his passes to go. Fulton and captain Matt Grimes usually came short to offer passing options and drove the ball forwards.
At the other end of the pitch, the attackers capitalised on Leeds’ problems throughout the match to create chances for themselves. They also relied on wing attacks which involved the flexible positioning from two players out wide. On a few occasions, Celina even drifted wide and created a triangle to move the ball into Leeds’ box.
Swansea also won a lot of second balls from set-pieces, specifically, from corners. This led to them having more chances inside the box and have a greater chance of scoring. One of those situations eventually turned into the only goal of the game. Leeds were able to clear the corner earlier, but Rodon made a crucial tackle to keep Swansea in possession.
Grimes picked up the ball and crossed it into the box, which was also cleared again. Unfortunately, that clearance found substitute Wayne Routledge, who was unmarked. He drove his shot into the bottom left corner and Casilla couldn’t do anything to stop it. Some might say that the shot was deflected by George Byers, that was why the Spanish goalkeeper was surprised and wasn’t able to reflex. Nonetheless, that goal proved to be crucial for Swansea as they returned to Wales with three points.
Two of the most interesting teams in the Championship have provided us with a very fascinating match. Leeds with a high-tempo style of play have caused a lot of troubles for Swansea in both defence and attack. But the only thing that they were lacked was luck, as they couldn’t convert their 21 chances. With two weeks of the international break in front of him, Bielsa will have a lot of things to do with his squad.
For Swansea, this win could prove to be huge for their season ahead. They remain unbeaten after six matches and currently top of the league. A clear style of play which shows Cooper’s identity and Graham Potter’s base has brought the Welsh side a very positive start. A two-week break is what they currently need to refresh the squad and allow the native coach to make few adjustments to what they have already done well.
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