Should We Be Worried About Leeds United?
The dreaded ‘second season syndrome’.
Don’t say it too loudly or else Sheffield United and Birmingham fans would start to have flashbacks but right now Leeds United are teetering dangerously close to joining those two fallen giants with just one win through their first seven games having already conceded 14 goals- the EPL’s 3rd worst return so far.
While manager Marcelo Bielsa is one of the brightest minds in world football many are beginning to question the merits of his patented ‘murder ball’ training sessions which aim to be replicated with a high-octane style of football on match days.
While factors such as Leeds’ incredible 9th place finish last season and the development of Kalvin Philips into a borderline world-class midfielder are massive ticks on the Bielsa resume, the constant Jekyll and Hyde performances this season are frustrating their loyal fanbase.
While the football is at times exhilarating, what isn’t is the prospect of a relegation scrap with Stats Insider’s futures model presently assessing Leeds as a 9.8% chance of playing in the Championship next season.
While yes, they have so far endured a brutal schedule with 4 of their first 7 games against top-half opponents, the reality is Leeds haven’t looked nearly as imposing as last season begging the question as to just how worried we should be regarding their lacklustre start?
Poor football or just brutally unlucky?
What we’ve seen throughout the Premier League in recent years is teams mired toward the foot of the table and suffering the threat of demotion despite playing relatively decent football with this predicament often boiling down to sheer luck.
Brighton last season were a perfect example of this phenomenon, finishing in a lowly 16th spot despite the stats suggesting the seagulls should have earned themselves an extra 20 premiership points and a top-10 finish.
Unfortunately Leeds can’t entirely blame luck for their own wretched start having so far only dialled up just two performances where they produced a higher expected goals number than their opposition.
From an attacking perspective they’ve left a lot to be desired while defensively the picture doesn’t get all that better as in only two games has the opposition XG been significantly lower than how many goals they’ve scored.
When looking at the table through expected points, Leeds would be placed in 14th position with 1 extra point than what they’ve actually earned, and while this is unflattering and indicates they’ve more or less got precisely what they’ve deserved, it at least illustrates to Leeds that they should be under no illusion as to how much work is in front of them and how much needs to change.
One Key Problem
Presently, Leeds have one over-arching problem and it pertains to their inability to defend against quick ball movement due to how expansive they prefer to be in attack.
Their desire to play on the front foot is increasingly leaving them exposed on the counter with good teams able to continually find gaps against them and who are too often easily exploitable.
So far this season they've have conceded the most number of shots in the league, surrendering 16.4 per 90 minutes whilst conceding the 2nd fewest passes within the 18-yard box at just 5.75 per-90.
This is suggesting Leeds are being exposed far too often and allowing easy opposition shots while not making the opposition work to break them down.
It worth noting that through the first seven games of the seasons we find familiar faces such as Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United ranking among the top teams where conceding shots are concerned, though it’s also a strong reason why a team like Brighton is enjoying such an incredible start having conceded the 3rd least shots per-90 minutes. It’s also a factor in Brentford’s stunning start with the Bees conceding the 7th fewest shots in the league and the 4th fewest goals.
Thankfully history has Leeds’ back
Interestingly, and thankfully for Leeds, contemporary EPL history suggests that a team's league position isn't decided in the first month and a half of the year.
This time last season Manchester United were in 15th position having garnered just 7 points. They would have course end up finishing second behind Manchester City who themselves had won just 3 of their first 8 games before rampaging their way to a third title in four seasons.
It was a similar story with West Ham United who put together a remarkable season in 20/21 and which culminated with a 6th place finish yet the hammers limped through the early part of their campaign and were in 13th place having banked just 8 points through their first half dozen games.
What Leeds need to remind themselves in that the EPL season is a slog and full of twists and turns. What a club can control is how they play which for Leeds is calling for a tightening up defensively which in turn could prompt a slight re-jigging where Bielsa’s offensive strategy is concerned.
This current international break affords Leeds a great opportunity to recalibrate and for Bielsa to get his side firing again and perhaps reclaim their spot within the EPL’s top half.
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