Goals are the bread and butter of football success. You can play the nicest, most exciting brand of football but if you’re not finding the back of the net with regularity then you’ll achieve very little especially in a league as competitive as the top flight of English football.
There are often two ways teams go about finding goals. Some sides sit deep and hit opponents on the break creating few chances but they’re often brilliant opportunities to score due to the space offered by playing on the break. These teams often perform at a very high level in terms of comparing goals to expected goals, exceeding expectations.
A good example of this would be Leicester’s success with Jamie Vardy up top as well as the likes of Crystal Palace who beat Leeds 4-1 last season despite an XG of 1.3 compared to Leeds’ 0.8.
Meanwhile, other teams dominate the ball creating plenty of chances week on week. These teams often end the season with an exceptionally high XG but the test of a great side is turning this high XG into a high number of goals which is what the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool have been able to achieve over the last three seasons. In fact, Liverpool’s downfall last term was failing to turn their XG into goals as their front three failed to fire with the regularity we associate with them. Meanwhile, Leeds’ attacker exceeded expectations proving the doubters wrong.
Considering Leeds and the aforementioned styles of play, it is quite interesting that Leeds under Marcelo Bielsa have been both a counter-attacking side and a side who dominates the ball.
People often assume that Bielsa’s team controls possession against low-block sides but that’s not always the case. Look at the 4-0 win away at Burnley in which the two split possession almost evenly. On that afternoon Leeds demonstrated remarkable efficiency in front of goal scoring four times despite an XG of 1.86. On top of that, the Whites kept a clean sheet at the other end in spite of Burnley’s XG of 1.41.
This demonstrates Leeds ability to give up the ball and create on the break converting chances at an exceptional rate. The best example of this might be when Leeds beat eventual Champions Manchester City 2-1 at the Etihad despite an XG of 0.18 in contrast to City’s 1.99. Now that’s a freak incident that cannot be relied upon 38 times a season but it displays Leeds ability to hurt teams on the break turning chances into goals when they arrive at the other end of the field.
A fairer example might be the defeat to Anfield. The Whites started the season away to the defending Champions in what was certainly a baptism of fire. The two played out a scintillating end-to-end contest filled with seven goals as a Mo Salah hat-trick gave Liverpool the opening day win.
But that afternoon, Leeds were remarkably clinical scoring three times despite an XG of o.27. Looking at the stats, it should’ve been a routine win for Jurgen Klopp’s side of around 3-0. But the ability of Leeds to convert their chances turned the game into an exciting contest.
On the other side of things, there have been times when Leeds have absolutely dominated the ball and created plenty of chances because of this. Look at the win away at Aston Villa for instance. Leeds enjoyed 60% of possession, registered 27 shots and 9 attempts on target scoring three times. That demonstrates the other side of Bielsa Ball which sees his side dictate possession but, unlike in previous seasons, Leeds showed they had the quality in front of goal to turn that possession into goals with the often criticised Patrick Bamford poaching a hat-trick that afternoon.
Before the season plenty assumed that the ex-Middlesbrough striker would be Leeds’ downfall. In 68 Championship games, he only scored 25 in two seasons under Bielsa. When promotion slipped through Leeds’ fingers in 2019, many turned to Bamford and others and claimed that their inability to score with regularity was their undoing. Even when times got tough during their promotion winning campaign, the finger was pointed at Bamford for squandering chances.
Therefore, it seemed fair to assume that in a tougher division where chances were going to become even rarer, Leeds needed a new number nine who would score consistently. Instead, Bielsa stuck by Bamford and it paid off as he and others showed quality in front of goal. He scored 17 goals last season finishing the year just six goals behind golden boot winner Harry Kane. Even his shot accuracy of 45% is something we should applaud and exceeds what Kane was able to achieve.
Bamford’s ability – and the likes of Jack Harrison and Raphinha to not discredit the others who contributed to Leeds tally of 62 goals – to turn chances into goals last season was the reasoning behind Leeds’ ninth place finish as they showed efficiency in front of goal again and again.
The best example of this and the way I want to leave you is a fixture you might not expect. Another 4-3 in Leeds’ second game of the season, the Whites beat Fulham at Elland Road. In that game Leeds scored four goals despite an XG of 1.45. Meanwhile, Fulham had a better XG than their opponents of 1.56. To win the game and score four goals despite a lower XG than their opponents is a remarkable feat and Leeds’ ability to overachieve in terms of XG carried them to success last term.