Two signings that would improve Leeds United – data analysis
Leeds United have struggled this season so far. After sacking club icon Marcelo Bielsa in February, the fans were not happy. When new manager Jesse Marsch came into the club, the mood did not change throughout the fan base. However, Leeds have seen improved performances since the American took the helm. Two wins from four games, including an incredible comeback against Wolves, has given Leeds much-needed breathing room at the bottom of the Premier League table. But, if Leeds stay in the Premier League next season, they will need to improve the squad. Injuries to Patrick Bamford, Kalvin Phillips, and Liam Cooper have shown Leeds’ squad depth problems. This data analysis will look at the statistics to find players that will improve Leeds’ squad.
As mentioned before, Leeds have poorly suffered in Kalvin Phillips‘ absence. In Phillips’ 12 Premier League appearances this season, Leeds have won 25% of their games, drawn 50% and lost 25%. Plus, they conceded 15 and scored 13 goals. The only match Leeds lost by more than one goal was when they played Liverpool, which ended 3-0 to Jurgen Klopp’s side. But, when Phillips was absent, Leeds became a much worse side. In the 18 games so far, Leeds won four games (22%), drawn two (11%) and lost 12 (67%). Leeds scored 21 times during this period. Most shockingly, the goals conceded skyrocketed to 52, 2.9 per match. Out of those 12 losses, seven were lost by more than one goal showing us that Phillips helped keep Leeds in games.
Kalvin Phillips – brief data analysis
All statistics and data attributed to Kalvin Phillips relate to his 2020/21 Premier League season.
Phillips was fantastic at getting stuck into a defensive duel. He had the third-most defensive duels in the Leeds squad with 303 (Stuart Dallas 319 and Luke Ayling 371) and the fourth most in the Premier League. Having three of the top four players for defensive duels made it hard for opposition teams to keep the ball as Leeds constantly harassed the opposition. Therefore, the counter-attack could commence more often, a fruitful avenue for Leeds last season.
Phillips also completed the most recoveries in the opposition half out of all Leeds’ midfielders last season with 293. Phillips also had a great reading off the game with 154 interceptions. He can break the play up in the opposition half, which Marcelo Bielsa, the previous Leeds United manager, wanted from his midfield.
Phillips had the most long ball’s from any Leeds midfielder last season (186) and the best success rate from the Leeds midfield (64%). This passing range was vital to how Bielsa wanted to play as he demanded quick transitions and long balls allow this to happen. Phillips could also keep possession when needed. Again, he leads another passing category for Leeds United midfielders: backwards passes (186) and its success rate (96.7%).
Phillps was great because of his passing range, defensive abilities and the constant pressure he exuded onto the opposition. Who could help fill those shoes and be able to play alongside Phillips in the future?
Djibril Sow’s defensive abilities
All statistics and data attributed to Djibril Sow relate to his Bundesliga season.
Eintracht Frankfurt are in 8th place in the Bundesliga this season, six points behind the Europa Conference League position. One of the shining lights throughout their campaign has been Djibril Sow. This season, the Swiss footballer has been influential in their campaign, having played 25 out of the 27 Bundesliga matches.
Sow has been a rock defensively. With the 4th most duels for players under 25-years-old (192), Sow likes to get into a challenge. Moreover, he wins his duels 62.5% of the time. This is significant when considering Adam Forshaw’s (155 and 58.1%) and Mateusz Klich’s (169 and 51.5%) numbers in this area. Also, Sow has an excellent reading of the game as he has intercepted 129 passes, the most out of any Frankfurt player. Likewise, Sow can add pressure further up the pitch with his 234 recoveries in the opposition’s half. His pressure would be a game-changer for Leeds United as Klich has only 44% of the interceptions of Sow with 71% of the minutes that the Swiss international has played.
In this example, Frankfurt are up by three goals with only 20 minutes to go in the match. Some players would not sprint back as they get complacent, but not Sow. He runs back and closes down the attacker. Then, he waits for the attacker to apply pressure to one foot so that Sow knows where the player will go. Finally, he uses his body and tackles perfectly, stopping the danger.
Sow has played in multiple formations this season, including three-man and two-man midfields. This experience will help Jesse Marsch as he may want to switch to his preferred 4-2-2-2 or keep his 4-2-3-1 formation. Being malleable will only help Sow.
Djibril Sow’s passing abilities
Now we know that Sow would be a great defensive asset into Marsch’s midfield, but what about his passing ability? After all, Kalvin Phillips has been a fantastic passer of the ball, and if he were to get injured again, Leeds would need a solid replacement. Well, Sow can be a tremendous deep-lying playmaker. With 79 long passes this season, Sow is no stranger to spraying the ball, and with a 59.5% success rate, he is pretty capable.
In this example, we see Sow scanning. Scanning is key in this situation as the right side of the pitch is overloaded with defenders. Therefore, it would be difficult for Frankfurt to progress the ball up the right-wing. Plus, there is a lack of movement from his teammates, which compounds the difficulty. Sow recognises this and is looking for another option.
Midfielders who were not confident in their long passing abilities would make the simple pass to Jesper Lindström. However, Sow recognises the option and chooses to go for the more difficult pass over towards Filip Kostic on the left-wing. Before doing all of this, Sow takes a touch to evaluate all options on the pitch. That is not to say that he dawdles on the ball; he quickly releases the ball to Kostic. Kostic receives the ball in a 1v1 situation ideal for the Serbian, who has the second most 1v1’s and dribbles in the Bundesliga this season. This example shows that Sow has an excellent passing range and can recognise the best possible pass.
Receiving the ball is essential for any central midfielder, and Sow does more than any Leeds midfielder with 686. Receiving is of massive importance for Leeds, and this is because Leeds spends a lot of energy on their pressing system, so they want to spend the least amount of time without possession. Leeds have the second-highest PPDA in the top five leagues in Europe, behind only Liverpool. Similarly, sometimes Leeds needs to relieve pressure by passing the ball backwards. All too often have we seen Leeds United’s player’s passing the ball forwards unnecessarily. Sow has an excellent success rate on his back passes with 94.7%, higher than Klich (90.3%) and Forshaw (93.5%).
Sow has so many qualities that would help improve the Leeds squad. He is a fantastic defender, great on the ball, and can play effectively in an intense pressing system. Sow is only 25-years-old, so Jesse Marsch could easily get a good 6-7 years out of the midfielder. Leeds United could do a lot worse than to sign Sow, who may want to leave if Frankfurt does not get European football this season.
Patrick Bamford – brief data analysis and game analysis
All statistics and data attributed to Patrick Bamford relate to the 2020/21 Premier League season.
Patrick Bamford was sublime last season. He was the 5th best player in terms of goals and assists and 4th for expected goals in the Premier League. Bamford also had the 4th most shots (97), with the next Leeds player in 28th (Raphinha with 63). He also had the 2nd most headed shots, only one behind Christian Benteke.
Bamford was also the spearhead of Bielsa’s pressing system. With 71 interceptions, Bamford was on the same level as Liverpool forwards Roberto Firmino (72) and Sadio Mané (74). This would be because the pressure from the whole team would lead to the opposition making mistakes on the ball. Bamford was the player pressing the central defenders/goalkeeper so that he would intercept the ball a lot. Bamford also had 579 duels, winning 32.8% of them. This shows us that Bamford was an insane presser. He also recovered the ball 68 times, with a success rate of 70.6%.
What does this data tell us? Bamford was useful in the air, great at getting into extraordinary spaces for scoring goals, plus he was able to finish those chances. He was a great presser of the ball. His movement was also interesting as he would constantly run the channels as a sole striker, unusual for someone in that situation.
For example, when Leeds United played Newcastle United last season, Bamford scored a rebounded shot. However, the finish is not an important aspect of this goal. Instead, Bamford’s movement is the most intriguing. First, Jack Harrison and Rodrigo both make a run towards the near post. Interestingly, Bamford runs behind the defence towards the corner of the 18-yard box.
Bamford continues to still stay behind the opposition full-back. This is smart because he knows that Rodrigo will take the space in-between the two central defenders. Therefore, it would become too congested in the centre of the box if Bamford made a run into the ‘normal’ area for a number 9. Bamford stays out of sight of any defender. Because of this, Bamford reacts quicker than any Newcastle defender, and he gets to the rebounded header to put the ball in the back of the net.
Another example of Bamford favouring a wider position was when Leeds played Leicester City last season. As we can see, Bamford stands in the half-space of the pitch, allowing him to attack coming from an angle. This angle would have allowed him to shoot, like he successfully does, or even pass the ball to Stuart Dallas, who was making a run.
Do Leeds need a backup striker?
Former Manchester United winger Daniel James has been filling the striker’s role since Bamford’s injury, and it has not worked. James has started 17 games as a striker in the Premier League, and he scored twice. Two goals throughout 17 starts is shocking, especially considering they both came in the same game against Aston Villa. James has also not created enough chances to suggest he should continue being the backup striker as he produced just one assist during this time.
Joe Gelhardt is one of the best prospects throughout the Leeds academy. This Premier League season, the 19-year-old has made 13 appearances, with 11 coming off the bench. The Liverpool man has scored twice and assisted once, the same amount as Daniel James. One of his goals came against Norwich in a crucial game, and his only assist provided the equalising goal against Wolves in their 3-2 comeback. However, to rely on such a young player as their backup striker could come back to hurt Leeds. We don’t know how he would handle the pressure of starting in the Premier League.
Tyler Roberts has not been good enough this season for end product. In 1105 minutes in the Premier League, Roberts has scored once and assisted once, and it simply isn’t good enough for a backup striker. Most of the Leeds fanbase would rather Marsch play Gelhardt rather than Roberts, and I cannot blame them. Gelhardt is younger, more clinical and always seems to change the ‘atmosphere’ at Elland Road when he gets substituted on.
Sam Greenwood also seems to be an option that Marsch could use. However, he is too inexperienced for the Premier League. Greenwood will be a quality footballer in the future, but for the next couple of seasons, Leeds needs someone experienced. Leeds need someone who has a history of scoring goals. A striker who already plays in an intense pressing system. A centre forward who can change a game single handily but isn’t too expensive.
That’s right, Andrea Belotti. The man linked with the best of the best back in 2017 after just scoring 26 goals in 35 Serie A appearances. The world was at his feet. Since then, he has been a regular goal-scorer for a team that is not one of the elite Italian clubs. Ninety-six league goals for Torino over seven seasons is a fantastic tally for the 28-year-old striker.
This season, Belotti has missed 18 games through injuries and has not been excellent in terms of goals. With only four goals and one assist in 15 league appearances, you may be wondering, “why should Leeds sign him?” The answer comes in two parts. The first is the financial aspect. Belotti’s contract is running out this summer, and Leeds could pick him up on a free transfer, which would be a coup for such a consistent goal-scorer.
Next, the underlying data suggest that he would be a good fit at Elland Road.
Torino plays a very intense pressing style, having the second most PPDA of any team in Europe’s top 5 leagues with 7.35 (only bettered by Barcelona with 6.82). Torino also have a similar amount of time on the ball as Leeds United. This is because Torino’s PPDA against is 11.6, higher than Leeds’ 11.61. Challenge intensity for both teams is similar, with Torino having 7.1, the 7th most in Europe’s top five leagues and Leeds have 7.3, the 4th most in Europe’s top five leagues. Another similarity is in their amount of long balls. Leeds United have played 1488 this season; Torino have played 1376 long balls. This shows that Torino play at a similar intensity to Leeds United, and Belotti has played a significant number of minutes in this system (911 in the Serie A).
Belotti, individually, has had an impressive season considering his injuries. This Serie A season, Belotti has been involved in 323 duels, winning 41.5%, which is amazing considering his game time. Belotti has also produced 1.38 interceptions per 90, 15 in total. The Italian striker has recovered the ball 22 times, which is 2.02 per 90. His 72.7% success rate in this metric is also impressive. Defensively, Belotti could easily fit into Leeds’ side as a backup striker and maybe even challenge Bamford.
Most importantly, Belotti is a force going forward. He has 35 shots in Serie A this season. Shooting is vital as you can’t score if you don’t shoot. Belotti is great at finishing as he has scored four goals from 3.9 xG. His critics would say that five-goal involvements in 911 minutes are not the numbers of an outstanding centre forward. At face value, this statement makes sense. However, Belotti has been injury-riddled, and he has struggled to get a run of starts this season. The former-Palermo striker has only started five league games in a row once this season.
Belotti’s movement has also been fantastic, especially when Torino played Juventus.
In this attack, Belotti (circled in white) sticks close to his Tommaso Pogeba. This creates a giant gap between Alex Sandro and Matthijs de Ligt that Belotti sprints into. If Mërgim Vojvoda had picked his head up, then he would have seen the great run by Belotti.
Eventually, the ball ends up on the left-wing. Belotti sees that Alex Sandro is closely marking him, and he can get away by moving around the box. He spins around Sandro to run into the space behind the Brazilian defender. Manuel Locatelli should be helping his teammate out by dropping back as he is achieving nothing by not marking a player or a dangerous space. Belotti’s position is fantastic for a cross as he is within the 6-yard-box, and Sandro is not near the striker. Belotti stays composed and slots the ball into the back of the net, giving Torino a 1-1 draw with Juventus.
Belotti would be a fantastic attacking option at Leeds. He plays in a similarly intense system, he has a great instinct in the box and would be available for free. He would make the transition between Bamford and Gelhardt a lot easier and keep Bamford on his toes when he returns from his injury. Belotti would also allow Daniel James to go back and play in his more natural position as a winger.
Sow and Belotti would make fantastic additions to Leeds, adding experience but with a good few years left for them to make an impact for Leeds. Belotti would be available for free at the end of his contract. Sow would be more expensive as his contract does not run out until summer 2024, but Leeds need to invest in a central midfielder and he would be a good option.