By David Woods

3rd Jan, 2020 | 11:41am

MOT Tactics: Potential disasters in Leeds defence, rarely-seen 30y/o is the answer

This article is part of a regular series from Leeds United Twitter account 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


We wanted to do a bit of a tactical review of the West Brom game because there was a bit of a turnaround in form based on a tactical tweak at half time by Bielsa.

We’ve already mentioned enough times that Leeds defensive issues have stemmed from midfield in recent games.

In hindsight, we probably understated Alioski’s role in the problems that have been ensuing in the left-back areas. He is to blame. But the midfield is still the main culprit.

The best chance that West Brom created on Wednesday was Matt Phillips’ one-vs-one just before half time. We’ve broken it down into stills so we can see what went wrong:

The phase of play begins with a throw-in. As you know, Leeds have been good from throw-ins all season, both offensively and defensively. Here, you see Alioski on Phillips – as you would expect – Klich in advance of Romaine Sawyers. Just offscreen, Cooper is tight on Robson-Kanu a couple of metres behind Alioski and Kalvin Phillips is with Pereira slightly further in-field.

The ball is thrown into Matty Phillips and Alioski challenges well, beginning a series of loose balls and head tennis. Eventually the ball comes out to Kalvin Phillips where Mistake #1 takes place:

This set up is perfect for Leeds: they’ve overturned an opposition possession and the ball has come out to their CDM who is in space with his two midfield partners nicely positioned ahead of him. But he takes an abysmal touch.

Time for Mistake #2 to occur.

As Phillips mis-controls, Matty Phillips is already anticipating a counter-attack. In this still, you can see that Alioski has a foot on him.

In two seconds, this one-foot advantage has become a one-foot deficit. NB. With Kalvin in no-man’s land, Cooper pushes up with Robson-Kanu producing a space for Phillips to attack.

In another two seconds, this is where Phillips is in relation to Alioski (ignore the time stamp on the video – this is from a later replay).

But let’s not forget Kalvin Phillips in all this. After losing possession and making a poor effort to win back possession, the ball comes out to Romaine Sawyers who has now evaded Klich… (we’ll call that Mistake #3) and in advance of Eddie Nketiah who (in his defence) shouldn’t be responsible here.

Mistake #4 sees Phillips attempt to press Sawyers meaning that Cooper is now marking Pereira, Dallas is behind Robson-Kanu (Mistake #6) and there is an acre of space in between Alioski and Ben White.

Because of this, Alioski slightly holds his run because he thinks he should press Sawyers (Mistake #7) but Sawyers plays the ball into the unmarked Robson-Kanu who then has an easy ball in to Phillips, now about 3 feet ahead of Alioski.

So: who is to blame? Alioski? Yes, in part – he should have tracked Phillips more carefully from the turnover. But the horrendous spacing means that Cooper, who Alioski would probably rely on to cover for him in this sort of situation, is himself covering for Phillips, who is himself completely out of position covering for Alioski or Harrison.

The result? A missing centre back, a left-back with no hope of catching up with his opponent, a CDM more advanced than his midfield partners in a defensive phase and an unmarked striker.

The introduction of Douglas, 30, changed things. As we mentioned earlier in the week, Douglas is a little less confident under pressure in possession. But he is much more solid positionally. Yes, he sits a little deeper. But he can afford to because his support play is more about arriving late and putting dangerous balls in from a deeper position than Alioski, who looks to attack the box.

One other comment: We’ve noticed that Leeds have developed a counter-attacking long ball which sees Costa go central and Bamford go wide right to pick up the ball.

This is just another area that Bamford excels in: bringing the ball down and releasing it quickly into space for the pacy Costa to run onto.

A 1-1 draw is good for Leeds. We were probably the dominant team in the game, controlling possession and working some good positions. However, we gave West Brom the better chances and the xG plot reflects that.

We can talk all we want about having the best defensive record in the early part of the season but there are potential disasters in our defensive play at times which, however well we’re controlling the game, can result in big chances.

We suspect this, in part, contributes to our tendency to ‘collapse’ in games. Introduce a little nervousness into a finely-balanced system like our man-to-man defensive approach and one mistake leads to a series of others and we’re ripe for picking by oppositions.

In other Leeds United news, ‘Fantastic’ – Exclusive: Paul Robinson responds as US billionaire linked with Leeds takeover