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Tactical Analysis: Leeds United’s xG – Jesse Marsch vs Marcelo Bielsa

In recent seasons, the term ‘xG’, or expected goals, has become the main statistic model when analysing football matches – allowing fans to understand, as simple as possible, which team has created the best attacking opportunities during a game – therefore showing the team who should have scored the most goals and overall deserve the three points. Although statistics and analytics don’t always reflect a team’s success, they can give an indication as to how a team is performing on the pitch; and although Jesse Marsch has been the head coach of Leeds United for just three matches, his xG performance so far as Leeds boss shows a stark contract to Leeds’ previous matches under Marcelo Bielsa this season.

Marcelo Bielsa xG (26 games)

The maverick Argentine was head coach of Leeds for the first 26 matches of this campaign, and had a total xG ‘for’ of 30.5, and an xG ‘against’ of 47.4 – meaning that on average the Whites had an an expected goals ‘for’ of 0.85, whilst conceding an xG of 1.8 per game, and a total xG record of -16.9 over the 26 games. Of course, these factors include playing Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium, Liverpool both home and away, as well as playing every team in the Premier League at least once; however having an expected goals record of -16.9 doesn’t look great regardless of the situation.

Jesse Marsch xG (3 games)

Understandably, as Marsch has faced just three opponents so far in the Premier League, all of whom have been opponents in the bottom half of the table, the sample size could be seen as slightly bias towards the American, however it shows an indication of how Marsch has already stamped his mark on his Leeds United side. Compared to Bielsa’s negative 16.9 xG, over the last three games Leeds’ expected goals difference has been +1.8; with Leeds having a total xG ‘for’ of 4.6 and an xG ‘against’ of 2.8 (averaging an xG ‘for’ of 1.5 and an xG ‘against’ of 0.9 per game).

Attacking Comparison

When comparing the attacking statistics under both managers compared to the rest of the Premier League in the same time period both sets of stats are based on, that being Bielsa’s 26 Premier League games in charge this season compared to Marsch’s 3, it is clear to see that there is very little to choose between them. The Whites have become slightly more efficient under their new American coach, using the ball more wisely in attack to have a better xG from few shots than during the Bielsa era. They now rank slightly higher for goals and xG compared to the rest of the league, which can only be a good sign for the near future under Marsch.

Bielsa attack:
Goals: 29 (16th)
xG for: 30.5 (11th)
xG for per game: 0.85 (13th)
Shots for per game: 13.59 (6th)
Shots for on target per game: 5.01 (10th)

Marsch attack:
Goals: 2 (15th)
xG for: 4.6 (9th)
xG for per game: 1.5 (8th)
Shots for per game: 12.00 (7th)
Shots for on target per game: 4.11 (12th)

Further analysing Leeds’ attack, the lack of attacking quality in the final third under both managers is evident. Leeds are around mid-table for most of their attacking creation statistics, even ranking as high as 6th under Bielsa and 7th under Marsch for shots per game against the rest of the Premier League, but their conversion rate is truly woeful. Leeds rank in the bottom five teams in the league for goals scored this season despite creating lots of chances. The lack of an out-and-out striker has been evident throughout the campaign, with Patrick Bamford still injured there is still a real concern that Leeds can dominate matches, but still lose because of their incapability of taking chances. This is something Marsch will have to address if the Whites are to build some breathing space between themselves and the relegation zone.

Defensive comparison

Much of the discussion around Marcelo Bielsa was his lack of concern when it came to Leeds United’s defence. The man-marking system in particular was a major problem, especially when Leeds faced the bigger teams, as they left massive open spaces for some of the best players in Europe to exploit. This led to some of the worst defensive stats in the league, with even bottom-placed Norwich ahead of Bielsa’s Leeds when it come to goals conceded and shots faced per game. Marsch’s first job as manager was to solve the defensive problems and to make United harder to play against, and the stats so far suggest he has done that.

Bielsa defence:
Goals against: 63 (20th)
xG against: 47.7 (18th)
xG against per game: 1.8 (18th)
Shots against per game: 17.46 (20th)
Shots against on target per game: 9.09 (19th)

Marsch defence:
Goals against: 5 (13th)
xG against: 2.8 (6th)
xG against per game: 0.9 (6th)
Shots against per game: 11.33 (13th)
Shots against on target per game: 5.67 (12th)

The improvement from Leeds defensively has been excellent so far under Marsch. They have prevented the opposition from creating clear cut chances, with their xG ranking in the top 6 compared to the rest of the Premier League over the same three-game period. What is clear again is that the conversion rate of the opposition is excellent under both managers, which obviously doesn’t help, with Leeds conceding far more goals than their expected xG against would have predicted. Leeds are now ranking in mid-table for most of their defensive statistics, whereas under Bielsa they were in the bottom three on nearly everything. It is clear that the scrapping of the man-marking system under the American has allowed them to reduce the space the opposition have to create and attempt shots, thus creating fewer chances.

Final thoughts

It’s a testament to Jesse Marsch so far that he has kept the attacking statistics at the same level as under Bielsa but has vastly improved the defensive statistics, something he simply had to do to stop United’s slide down the table. Much like Bielsa, he has been unlucky in that the actual goals for column is lower than the xG goals for, as with the actual goals against column being higher than the xG goals against. In fact, if the Premier League table went off xG this season, Leeds would be three places higher than they are, but unfortunately their lack of efficiency in attack, along with the clinical approach of the opposition has them in a relegation scrap. It’s clear Marsch has improved Leeds, but his three games have been against Leicester City, Aston Villa, and Norwich City respectively, rather than any of the ‘top 6’. However, it’s an early indication as to how Marsch has implemented his style in such a short space of time at Elland Road, and how veering away from Bielsa’s infamous man-marking system has allowed Leeds to become more of a defensive unit, which in turn should make them harder to beat going forward for the remainder of the Premier League season.

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