View: Time for Bielsa to unleash rarely seen Leeds 23y/o – starting v Arsenal
Leeds United have seen their progress stall in recent weeks, but Marcelo Bielsa has the ideal opportunity to get back on track against Arsenal at Elland Road in two weeks time.
While the international break can often prove a hindrance for coaches, the Argentine may appreciate being given the time to regroup, work with his squad and watch as players get closer to returning from injury.
Defeats to Leicester City and Crystal Palace will have dented the pride of supporters and the squad, but the approach remains sound. If Bielsa is able to fine-tune the balance and make the correct tweaks, Leeds United could easily go on another good run such is the up and down nature of the Premier League this season.
While the absence of Kalvin Phillips and subsequent attempts to replace him has been perhaps the most obvious issue in recent weeks, there remain some questions to answer in attack too.
Patrick Bamford has scored seven goals in eight games and looks in good form, but with Rodrigo out due to a positive COVID-19 test and Pablo Hernandez left out of the 18 against Palace, there has been something missing. In answer to this, the time has perhaps finally come for Raphinha to be introduced from the start.
Impressive every time he enters the fray, the Brazilian is a dangerous dribbler and creator who has shown with Rennes that he can find the net. Despite playing just 60 minutes in the Premier League so far this season, no Leeds player has a higher progressive distance carried average per match, while he has managed three passes into the penalty in his short time on the pitch (via FBRef).
Last season he scored five goals and provided three assists in 22 Ligue 1 appearances, averaging 0.64 expected goals plus assists per 90, while only Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Angel Di Maria, Wissam Ben Yedder and Dimitri Payet averaged more xA over the whole season. He also ranked 10th in the division in terms of key passes and averaged 3.09 dribbles per 90 (via FBRef).
So far this season, the 23-year-old have been kept out of the side by wide men Jack Harrison and Helder Costa, but Costa’s grip over that shirt is looking weaker by the match. The former Wolves man has provided just one goal or assist since the second match of the season, while the advanced analytics show that he is not pulling his creative weight.
Costa ranks eighth in the squad in terms of xA per 90 on 0.12, and eighth in xG plus xA generated (via FBRef). In the first half against Palace before being replaced by Raphinha, he touched the ball 20 times in which time he made just one progressive pass and scored an unfortunate own goal (via FBRef). Against Leicester it was a similar story, where he touched the ball 48 times over the 90 minutes but managed just two progressive passes and generated nothing in terms of xG or xA (via FBRef).
With Raphinha bedding in slowly so far, the time has now come for Bielsa to grant him an opportunity from the start. It is clearly on Bielsa’s mind given that he came on early against Palace, and at this stage Costa has to be the man to come out.
In other Leeds United news, MOT View: Pundits need to calm down about Leeds and look to the metrics