This article is part of a regular series from Leeds United stats supremos All Stats Aren’t We – the team also host a brilliant podcast that goes in-depth into the tactics of Marcelo Bielsa and a deeper look at the underlying stats
Some tactical thoughts ahead of the Leeds United game against Luton Town on Tuesday evening.
Luton Town currently sit second from bottom in the Championship after a fairly lacklustre season in the division.
As Ben Mayhew has it (@experimental361), Luton are about value for their position, although they are overperforming xG by about 4.6 and overperforming their xGA by about 9.4. Their xGA of 61.6 puts them second bottom of the league, pipping Charlton to the post (61.7 xGA).
This is all well and good, but since the lockdown, Luton have replaced one Jones (Graeme) with another (Nathan – he of Stoke City). Since coming in—only two games, of course—Luton have picked up four points from six, making them a team Leeds shouldn’t be taking lightly.
In the two games played since the restart, Nathan Jones has used two systems. The first—in a 1-1 draw vs Preston North End—was Jones’ favoured 4-4-2 with a midfield diamond:
The notable features of the 4-4-2 diamond tactically are firstly the narrowness that it produces. With a midfield three made up of two 8s and a 6, in defensive phases, the three players have to cover a lot of ground to avoid isolating a full back:
With a less defensively-minded player like Izzy Brown, you also lose a level of defensive depth.
As a result of this, Nathan Jones set up slightly differently on Saturday against Swansea City. Rather than going with an extra striker, Jones prefered a 4-2-3-1 hybrid which introduced a double pivot into the system:
In defensive set up, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu sits alongside Glen Rae in central midfield with Jacob Butterfield in front of them.
However, in possession, they looked closer to a 4-1-4-1, which makes me wonder if Nathan Jones has been studying Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds:
In these situations, Mpanzu tended to push ahead of Butterfield when possession was turned over because he is a strong presser of the ball.
In some attacking situations, Luton even tried to get into a 4-4-2 hybrid with one of Butterfield or Harry Cornick pushing up alongside James Collins up front:
The question on Tuesday will be: which of these two systems will Jones use?
On the face of it, the 4-2-3-1/4-1-4-1 hybrid seems the more likely.
As we know all too well, Leeds look to overload to isolate: engage in build-up play to switch play quickly and find players isolated on the other side. Against a 4-4-2 diamond, a team is extremely vulnerable to this approach.
The blueprint of how to beat Leeds is well known: sit deep, absorb pressure, and look to pick them off on the counter. The 4-2-3-1/4-1-4-1 hybrid will allow Luton to match Leeds player for player in the midfield areas and then put them up full-back to wide player:
This is will allow them sit deep in a 4-5-1 and look to decompress in turnover situations, looking for the spaces in between the Leeds back four:
If this is the game plan, expect to see Hernandez coming on to change the game in the second half (if he doesn’t start the game) and Leeds doing similar to what they did against Fulham.
Of course, there are caveats: if Costa is still struggling with the issue he had on Saturday, then questions will be raised about Harrison playing on the right again and Alioski on the left. Hernandez will also be called for as will Roberts as a striker, no doubt.
In the unlikely event of a 4-4-2 diamond making an appearance, we could see Leeds setting up in a 3-3-1-3:
As is often the case, Leeds should play a right wing-back in an inverted role (it’s usually Dallas) which could see Douglas starting at left wing-back (especially if Alioski is needed further up the field).
Leeds would likely look to get Harrison on the ball in advanced areas with his left-back in support, trying to make the most of the narrowness of the 4-4-2 diamond.
Nathan Jones is a savvy manager and this Luton side can be dangerous: just ask Swansea City fans…
It’s all well and good beating Fulham but these are the games Leeds need to be winning now and, with a series of teams who are looking to break out of relegation battles, Tuesday will be a good test of what Leeds can do in this regard.
In other Leeds United news, ‘Miserable’ – Leeds chief launches attack on rivals and delivers verdict on Whites return