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EFL Championship 2019/20: Wigan Athletic vs Leeds United - Tactical Analysis tactics

EFL Championship 2019/20: Wigan Athletic vs Leeds United – tactical preview

Matchday three of the Championship brings us a number of interesting clashes that involve some of the big names. As the league is starting to shape up, it is important for clubs to find positive results and know about their opposition’s tactics at the same time. One of the clubs who are heading for a high finish is Leeds United and they travel to Wigan Athletic’s home ground this weekend.

Wigan got off to a good start as they completed a comeback over Cardiff City. But in their recent two matches, they were dominated and fell short against Preston. They were also on the other side of their tie with Stoke City in the EFL Cup. Although they have had a very exciting transfer window, the team are still finding their rhythm. When they welcome third-placed Leeds, a tough opponent is waiting for Paul Cook’s side.

On the other hand, the Yorkshire-based club Leeds United wanted to advance further than last season. They were close to an automatic promotion spot, but the lack of consistency cost them one of the two highest spots. This season, Marcelo Bielsa has kept the core from three months ago with the return of Jack Harrison and Jack Clarke. With an unbeaten start, they travel to the DW Stadium with high confidence.

This tactical analysis will provide an analysis of the upcoming match between Wigan’s and Leeds’, and the tactics they may implement. Meanwhile, using statistics and their previous two matches, we will predict how Paul Cook and Marcelo Bielsa will line their respective sides up.

Team news and predicted lineups

Cook made ten changes to the side that played against Preston when they travelled to Stoke. That lineup saw the debuts of new signings like Charlie Mulgrew, Dujon Sterling and Bright Enobakhare. But against Leeds, one of the top sides in the Championship, the gaffer is certain to change his squad again.

The return of captain Sam Morsy is a huge boost to the side as the Egyptian midfielder missed Wigan’s first three matches. According to Cook, he has trained with the first-team squad and there is a possibility that he will appear on the bench. Meanwhile, Joe Williams also had a very good game against Stoke, but choosing the new signings for the clash against Leeds might not be the case here.

Still, Jamal Lowe could keep his spot in the lineup as he replaces veteran Anthony Pilkington on the left-hand side. Kieffer Moore is still waiting for his first start for Wigan and he might have an edging advantage over Joe Garner. But I went for Garner since he has the experience that Wigan need against Leeds. Chey Dunkley could also make his return to the side, replacing Danny Fox in the process.

Wigan (4-2-3-1, from left to right): (GK) David Marshall; (DF) Antonee Robinson, Cheyenne Dunkley, Cédric Kipré, Nathan Bryne; (CM) Lewis Macleod, Lee Evans; (AM) Jamal Lowe, Josh Windass, Michael Jacobs; (ST) Joe Garner.

For Bielsa, he tends not to reveal his team before the match to the press. But unfortunately, after denying that he will name the side in the pre-match conference, he just accidentally revealed to the journalists. He quoted: “But between you and me it’s the same team.”

This means he had confirmed Leeds’ starting lineup when they travelled to Wigan and it’s the exact same as their match against Nottingham Forest. Kiko Casilla, of course, remains in goal while Ben White continues his amazing start at Leeds with his fourth consecutive match alongside captain Liam Cooper.

In front of them, Kalvin Phillips plays in the role of a half-back and completes the midfield line that consists of Mateusz Klich and Adam Forshaw. Providing the goals for Leeds will be Patrick Bamford, who missed a few great chances against Forest, and is supported by Jack Harrison and Pablo Hernández. In terms of injuries, he had no fresh names to add to the list although Luke Ayling and Tyler Roberts will miss out on the match.

Leeds (4-1-4-1, from left to right): (GK) Kiko Casilla; (DF) Barry Douglas, Liam Cooper, Ben White, Stuart Dallas; (DM) Kalvin Phillips; (CM) Mateusz Klich, Adam Forshaw; (WF) Jack Harrison, Pablo Hernández; (ST) Patrick Bamford.

Wigan’s style of play

Wigan under Paul Cook have the tendency of playing high tempo football, especially in their attacks. They are quick on counter-attacks using long balls towards target man Garner. The former Rangers striker also plays a very important role in positional attacks alongside Windass.

Their positioning is crucial as it would drag the opposition’s defender back into their box. It creates spaces for pacey wingers like Lowe or Jacobs to capitalise. But with only four players located inside and near the 16-yard box, Wigan usually get suffocated when they attempt to approach the goal.

EFL Championship 2019/20: Wigan Athletic vs Leeds United - Tactical Analysis tactics
Jacobs made a long pass towards Windass’ run

It’s also worth noticing that Windass plays in a role that is slightly below Garner, but he is usually the focal point in Wigan’s attack. The shot below shows one of the situations in their game against Cardiff that involved these two. As mentioned, Kipré or Macleod could choose to make long passes inside their half. The destination is usually Garner as they want to make the most out of his physicality.

Garner will drop deep in most situations, dragging along two centre-backs behind his back. Meanwhile, from a deeper starting position, Windass uses his pace to sprint into the spaces behind Cardiff’s defensive line. He picks up the header and approaches Etheridge’s goal in a matter of a second.

EFL Championship 2019/20: Wigan Athletic vs Leeds United - Tactical Analysis tactics
Target man Garner made a pass to Windass, allowed him to continue his run

They could also use another attacking method that allows both attacking full-backs to support the play. One of their new signings, left-back Antonee Robinson, has the tendency of overlapping to support the attackers. He is extremely quick off the ball and this is very crucial in Wigan’s transition period. When one of the attackers controls possession centrally, the American youngster would fill in the wide spaces. But if either Windass or Jacobs insists to stay inside the flank, he supports them by underlapping into the space that is created.

Against Leeds, Robinson could become a potential attacking method in counter-attacks. When Bielsa’s side press high up the pitch, Wigan could allow him to roam from his position and position near the halfway line. Then, the central midfielder will pick out his run using a long ball while Robinson drags the attackers to join him. He will form a very interesting battle with Leeds’ Dallas when these two defend and attack.

EFL Championship 2019/20: Wigan Athletic vs Leeds United - Tactical Analysis tactics
Windass moved wide with the ball and created spaces for Robinson to overlap

Another attacking method that Wigan could use is interchanging positions and quick combinations. Either the winger or full-back could tuck inside and drag along Douglas or Dallas. This will create a big gap on that flank and allow the other to capitalise. Bristol City showed us the way to do so with their consolation goal against Leeds.

When Palmer dribbled the ball up the pitch, Douglas moved away from his original position and attempted to recover possession. But the former Wolverhampton Wanderers defender left Weimann in a huge space that allowed him to pick up the ball from Palmer. On the other hand, Leeds’ defensive line had no choice but to remain compact as two of Bristol City’s players pinned them in their respective positions.

EFL Championship 2019/20: Wigan Athletic vs Leeds United - Tactical Analysis tactics
Leeds’ defence stayed compact, leaving Weimann in a big space

Wigan also had a similar situation against Cardiff, though. Anthony Pilkington drifted inside from his right-winger position and carried along one of the opposition’s defenders. Jacobs spotted that and immediately made the run towards the right half-space. Although he might face the prospect of a 1v1 with Lee Peltier, Byrne’s overlap could help him solve the problem and result in a chance for them.

EFL Championship 2019/20: Wigan Athletic vs Leeds United - Tactical Analysis tactics
Pilkington’s movement into the central area allowed Jacobs to drift wide

Defensively, Wigan adapted a conservative press towards the opposition. They didn’t recover the ball in an aggressive attitude but would rather wait for heavy touches or misplaced passes. Combined with their man-oriented marking, they have a higher chance of recovering possession high up the pitch.

Usually, the attackers would put pressure on the build-up and prevent the ball from reaching the halfway line. Meanwhile, Macleod and Evans will move close to the area and are responsible for intercepting passes or through balls heading towards them. A very distinctive press that we see from many clubs these days, but what makes it different is their positioning discipline. Whenever a player follows one of the opposition’s players, he will stick to that player and will only retreat after the build-up process ends.

EFL Championship 2019/20: Wigan Athletic vs Leeds United - Tactical Analysis tactics
Wigan’s man-oriented marking

In case the press is bypassed, they would form a compact 4-4-1-1 defensive structure inside their half. The midfielders tend to stay compact to the central area and are supported by Windass upfront. They shift laterally across the pitch depending on where the ball is and try to win the ball as soon as possible.

The defensive line stays a bit wider and vacates the half-spaces too. Their task is to defend the box and block the long shots. Also, tracking the player’s run is a must for them as intelligent movements and smart passes could harm Marshall’s goal. Leeds are also very good when it comes to this subject and the experienced players like Fox or Dunkley will be important assets for the side.

EFL Championship 2019/20: Wigan Athletic vs Leeds United - Tactical Analysis tactics
Wigan’s 4-4-1-1 defensive structure

Leeds’ style of play

After his first season at England, Bielsa’s tactics have been elevated quite a bit over the summer. The changes that he made allow his players to adapt more easily to the Championship and the their physicality as well.

When not in possession, the Yorkshire-based club still press the opposition high up the pitch. Their aim is similar to last season, winning the ball inside the opposition’s half and starting a counter-attack immediately. But they take on a more conservative style as they focus on marking the possible passing options rather than running towards the ball-carrier and tackling to win the ball.

If needed, though, they can still be aggressive when a team circulate possession inside their half for too long. With at least two players closing in on the ball-carrier, he could easily lose the ball if there is no support around him. This is when their rapid turnover takes place. Bristol City and Nottingham Forest are clubs that don’t usually do so we haven’t had many chances to see the strategy being applied.

EFL Championship 2019/20: Wigan Athletic vs Leeds United - Tactical Analysis tactics
Leeds’ man-oriented press

If they can’t win the ball on the other side of the pitch, the players will regroup into their 4-1-4-1 defensive structure. The midfield line will constantly apply pressure on the opposition’s midfielders and prevent them from making runs into the channel. They will also try and recover possession in a bit aggressive way for a counter-attack. Last season, they also received support from their false nine Kemar Roofe. After his departure to Belgium, Bamford steps up to replace him. Still, he needs to improve his defending as the former Chelsea man occasionally finds himself on the other end in some duels.

Meanwhile, Phillips will move flexibly between the lines as he plays in the role of a half-back. His responsibility is to sweep any balls coming towards him and stay a bit deeper to support the defence. At times, he can even position in between White and Cooper to form a back five against intense pressure from the opposition’s attack.

As mentioned, the defenders tend to stay compact in front of the box. They defend the zone 14 and may also drift wide to create overloads on either flank. Being the last line of Leeds’ defensive structure, they have to focus on preventing runs or passes heading into the 16-yard box while keeping Casilla’s goal safe.

Their build-up also remains similar to last season, but on certain occasions, we can spot the absent of Phillips. Last season, he constantly dropped deep to form a passing triangle with two centre-backs and allowed both full-backs to overlap. The opposite scenario happens this season as both Douglas and Dallas have the option of staying deep and forming a four-man build-up.

EFL Championship 2019/20: Wigan Athletic vs Leeds United - Tactical Analysis tactics
Leeds’ four-man build-up

They also have a natural ball-playing defender in Ben White on loan from Brighton. His arrival will release the pressure on Cooper as the club’s captain can focus more on doing the defensive work. White is comfortable on the ball, he can dribble with the ball high up the pitch and connect with the midfielders.

Statistically speaking, he registered 67 successful passes with an accuracy rate of 86% against Forest. Meanwhile, on his debut against Bristol City, he had 76 touches, make a total of 66 passes and 85% of them found their destinations. His passing map below from @LUFCData also shows his impressive performance in terms of building Leeds’ attacks. Most of his passes come from the right half-spaces while a number of spots can be seen in the middle third. Although he didn’t have much match experience before coming to Leeds, previously playing for the Brighton’s U23 team, he shows his composure and confidence whenever he is controlling possession.

EFL Championship 2019/20: Wigan Athletic vs Leeds United - Tactical Analysis tactics
Ben White’s pass map against Bristol City [Credit: @LUFCData for the stats and pass map]
Under the pressure that comes from the opposition, the players didn’t show signs of being nervous. Instead, they create a passing triangle with one player 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.

EFL Championship 2019/20: Wigan Athletic vs Leeds United - Tactical Analysis tactics
Leeds players created a passing triangle to bypass Forest’s pressure

At the other end of the pitch, Hernández and Harrison’s positioning is always worth noticing. They usually locate out wide and close to the pitch line as the main purpose of this strategy is to stretch the opposition’s defensive line.

Meanwhile, the two central midfielders Klich and Forshaw would move in between the channel and have the license to sit on the shoulders of the defenders. Combined with Bamford in the central area, they present tough choices for the opposition. They have to choose between stretching out wide to mark Hernández and Harrison and leave the central area vulnerable, or staying compact and allow Leeds wingers to do their job. Either of those options aren’t viable as Leeds will approach your goal in one of these ways. In this case, it was a long ball from the defence heading towards the Spaniard.

EFL Championship 2019/20: Wigan Athletic vs Leeds United - Tactical Analysis tactics
Hernández and Harrison’s positioning wider on the pitch


With the quality of their squads and their style of play, Wigan and Leeds are set to create a very interesting matchup in matchday three of the Championship. On one hand, Wigan have had a fascinating summer with many signings that could help them stay away from their relegation battle, including Leeds’ defender Tom Pearce.

On the other hand, Leeds are eager for their return to the Premier League. With “El Loco” directing the season, the fans have the right to expect this scenario will happen. Continuing their unbeaten run will build a solid base for their promotion hopes. This evening at the DW Stadium, we can hope for eye-catching performances from both sides.

Artwork by @chapulana

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