Leeds United won’t be too bothered if they keep scoring but their defensive injury crisis, combined with this ominous xG statistic, means they could be set to keep leaking goals.
According to The xG Philosophy, who compile expected goals data, Leeds have conceded the most xGA (expected goals against) in the Premier League this season (29.29), while they have also been on the receiving end of the two largest expected goals totals this season (4.50 v Manchester United, 4.35 v Chelsea).
Largest Expected Goals totals this season:
Man Utd (v 𝗟𝗲𝗲𝗱𝘀) – 4.50
Chelsea (v 𝗟𝗲𝗲𝗱𝘀) – 4.35
Everton (v West Brom) – 4.17
— The xG Philosophy (@xGPhilosophy) December 23, 2020
Expected goals can be calculated in different ways depending on the organisation, but WyScout also have Leeds bottom of this defensive statistic, with a higher number of 32.14 xGA. They record the league average as 20.55, while West Brom and Fulham, the two other sides promoted from the Championship last season, have an xGA of 30.35 and 24.19, respectively.
In last season’s Championship, Leeds actually had the best defensive record, with 35 conceded from 46 games, while West Brom (45) and Fulham (48) fell way behind.
After captain Liam Cooper hobbled off the pitch against Manchester United on Sunday to add to the injury list, which includes summer signing Robin Koch and Gaetano Berardi, it will fall upon the shoulders of some more inexperienced players to arrest this alarming statistic.
There could be some good news, with Diego Llorente set to return soon. However, manager Marcelo Bielsa, is likely to be patient with the Spain international after his recent muscular issues, so the upcoming games against Burnley and West Brom could come too soon.
Can youngster Struijk stop the rot?
One man who will hope to be a beneficiary of Cooper’s expected lay-off is Pascal Struijk, the 21-year-old Dutch defender who filled in for the captain against Liverpool on the opening day of the Premier League season.
Since that 4-3 defeat at Anfield, Struijk has been limited to three further league starts, against Wolves, Aston Villa and Crystal Palace, with the latter two coming in the Leeds midfield.
With Koch and Llorente injured, right-back Luke Ayling has been forced to tuck into a centre back role, and with Cooper now out, he will be required to take on the role as senior enforcer in the middle of defence if Llorente is not pushed back into action immediately.
With Leeds playing a higher line and pushing up the pitch, to their demise against Manchester United, the younger legs of Struijk could be useful in the Leeds defence, particularly given the upcoming opponents.
Games against Burnley and West Brom before the New Year will likely see Leeds on the front foot and dictating play, while their Premier League rivals try to sit in and soak up the pressure before counter-attacking.
Bielsa will hope Struijk, or whoever he throws into the starting XI, will be able to stand up to the challenge and shore up the defence, without losing their attacking principles.
In other Leeds news, here’s our view on the future of £8.8k/wk outcast.