Match Analysis: Leeds still need to improve their productivity in front of goal

Recently I wrote an article discussing Leeds’ marked improvement in front of goal. The Whites racked up 62 goals in the league last season, as many as West Ham who finished in the European places, and often out-performed their XG or at least made good on the promise of their XG to claim vital points at the expense of teams throughout the league from the bottom to the top.

But, despite the clear improvement, Leeds still have to enhance their goal scoring abilities next season if they want to kick-on and push for European football. I’d argue there are two main reasons behind this need as well.

Firstly, is the fact they conceded more goals than anyone else in the top half last season leaking 54 goals at a rate of 1.5 per game. Now this isn’t an indictment on Leeds’ defence, it is more of a symptom of Bielsa Ball.

The Argentinian has always set up his team to be energetic, press high, attempt to win the ball back quickly and obliterate unset defences. This results in two outcomes: plenty of Leeds United goals and plenty of goals against Leeds United as teams get beyond the press and in-behind. Bielsa Ball leads to an open game of football, football as it was intended to be played.

That’s why Leeds were one of, if not the, most entertaining teams in the league. It wasn’t, as some would have you believe, because Leeds had a terrible defence. Now, Bielsa had his fair share of problems to resolve at the back, but that was largely down to injuries rather than a poor defence in general, but it’s clear that Leeds are simply going to concede goals because of the way they play no matter the personnel at the back.

To counteract this and get to where West Ham were last season, Leeds need to score more tuning defeats into draws and draws into wins so that they can turn themselves into contenders for European football.

The second is the fact Leeds still squandered a number of key chances and subsequently gave up points to opponents that could have fired them up the table. Only four teams missed more big chances than the Whites last season as they failed to put away 50 of what were considered ‘big changes.’

Meanwhile, Patrick Bamford missed 21 big chances last season which was more than anyone else in the division last season hinting towards a problem for the Whites up front. Now I’m not suggesting that Leeds need to replace Bamford, but it is clear that he and his teammates need to continue the improvements which drove their success in 2020/21 into next year developing even more efficiency up front.

Leeds United also dropped 13 points in games where they had superior XG when compared to their opponents. The pair of defeats to Wolves were especially concerning. At Elland Road, Leeds managed an XG of nearly 2 and wound up losing 1-0 failing to find the back of the net. Meanwhile, away at Molineux was even worse. Leeds were determined to have had an XG of 2.48 that day but lost 1-0 against a side who only mustered an XG of 0.49. In both games, Leeds were kept goalless despite boasting a much better performance than their opponents and warranting at least a goal if not more per game. That’s six points Leeds dropped due to an inability to score and those six points would’ve seen them finish level on points with West Ham in sixth place and above the likes of Tottenham securing European football even if it would have been in the shape of the newly formed and much maligned Europa Conference League.

Furthermore, even draws against the top teams can be re-contextualised as disappointing when we consider XG. A 1-1 draw with Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool less than a day after the beginnings of the Super League debacle, that’s a great result right?

Well the stats suggest it should’ve been three points rather than one. Leeds deserved an entire goal more than Liverpool on the night with an XG of 2.6 compared to Liverpool’s 1.6. That goal should’ve come in the opening exchanges when Bamford squandered what appeared to be a guaranteed goal when a messy ball from Fabinho opened up his own side’s defence. To then go on and concede the opener to Sadio Mane as he ended his longest goal draught as a Liverpool player is unforgivable and is symptomatic of Leeds last season and demonstrates the problem which is keeping Marcelo Bielsa’s side outside of the top seven at the moment.

There were also a number of games last season that Leeds lost despite having a virtually identical XG to their opponents. For example, Leeds were defeated 2-1 by Everton at Elland Road and that afternoon the Toffees had an XG of 1.92. You might see the score line and think ‘fair enough’ but when you consider that Leeds also had an XG of well over 1 that day, suddenly you start to think if maybe the Whites were unlucky to be denied a point and that was a reoccurring problem for Leeds last season. To climb the table next year, that has to change.

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