MOT Tactics – Expect breathless game as Leeds clash v QPR could get crazy
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 thoughts ahead of Leeds United’s trip to Loftus Road on Saturday lunchtime.
On paper, a trip to a lower-mid-table Championship side should be lovely for a Leeds United coming off the back of a 2-0 home loss to title rivals Sheffield Wednesday but we all remember last season.
That 1-0 loss felt like the beginning of a decline that went on to see Leeds missing out on promotion and… oh look… we’re here again and the same anxieties remain.
As for QPR, they’ve had an inconsistent season. After a quietly promising start, they’ve slowly slumped into 15th place but their results have hardly settled. Their last two Championship results—a 6-1 win over Cardiff and 3-1 loss to Brentford—sandwich a 5-1 win against Swansea in the FA Cup. Analyse that.
Although Mark Warburton has experimented with other formations—most notably a three at the back 5-3-2—recent fixtures have seen them adopt a 4-2-3-1 as their go-to:
Leeds fans will remember being impressed by Eberechi Eze for the return fixture a few months ago. In that game, Eze played as a classic 10. More recently, Warburton has moved him out to a wide left position.
His opposite number is Bright Osayi Samuel—another dangerous wide player—and they flank Ilias Chair (that’s Shy-ear… not Chair…), a diminutive 10 who bears an uncanny resemblance to Ian Poveda. Just saying.
Up front, Warburton has been favouring Nakhi Wells (on loan from Burnley) over Jordan Hugill (on loan from West Ham) and Jan Mlakar (on loan from Brighton).
Joe Lumley—a goalkeeper who isn’t the most confident with the ball at his feet (of which more shortly)—sits behind a back four of Geoff Cameron and Grant Hall who are flanked by Ryan Manning on the left and Todd Kane on the right.
The double pivot is comprised of Dominic Ball and Luke Amos.
With the exception of Eze, QPR are a fairly solid and unimaginative side. They aren’t great at building from the back; they don’t control their midfield areas particularly well; they do score goals—they’ve scored more than every team except West Brom—but they also concede goals—more than everyone except Barnsley and Luton. As the slow migration of Eze from the centre to the wing might suggest, QPR look to build up in wide areas.
To do this, they push their wingbacks to allow their wide players to advance too. Their double pivot drops deeper to help cover the resulting space in the full-back area:
In this sense, QPR feel very similar to Swansea: a conservative double pivot, advanced wing backs, and a disconnect between their forward players and their defensive players.
At times, QPR can be stretched so their defensive structure looks like a back four and a double pivot and not much else. This would explain their goals conceded column:
(For the record, Swansea don’t have the same disconnect between their forwards and defence—for them, the disconnect manifests in attacking transition rather than defensive, a key difference.)
In attacking situations, a lot goes through Eze, understandably. Interestingly, Eze likes to play similarly to Pablo Hernandez, in that he likes to get the ball to his feet, wait for his teammates to move around him and then play the ball or cut inside:
Beyond this, don’t expect QPR to spend a lot of time in the build-up phases. They do try to play out of the back at times but, if it’s not working, they are happy to go long, looking to find the channels with Eze and Osayi Samuel in.
Defensively, QPR seemed pretty comfortable pressing aggressively against Brentford last weekend. They pressed high as a 4-4-1-1 with Chair pushing up alongside Wells depending on how the press went:
Given Leeds’ own struggles against high-pressing teams in recent weeks, don’t be surprised to see this at times in the game on Saturday.
However, given QPR’s aggressive press, they are open to the counter-attack (in a manner similar to Leeds). It could be a game of “whoever counters the best takes the prize”. Or as we like to call it: Birmingham Away 2.0.
How will Leeds set up for this one? The 4-1-4-1 will match Leeds up player for player with a player over to double up on the QPR lone striker:
With Douglas out, it will be interesting to see who starts at left-back out of Alioski and Dallas. It will also be interesting to see what impact not having Dallas in the midfield will have.
Leeds will be trying to build up in an aggressive press so it will all depend on: 1) if Leeds can break the QPR press 2) if they can’t, how they decide to counter that.
If Leeds do keep breaking the QPR press, then QPR may start sitting deeper and deeper in a 4-4-1-1 block. We suspect this is unlikely, though, and won’t be surprised if the game becomes quite a breathless back-and-forth affair.
All in all, don’t expect a nice calm ease-past win on Saturday. It could be crazy.
In other Leeds United news, ‘Noises from out East…’ – Phil Hay delivers update on reported Leeds move for Jarrod Bowen