By David Woods

20th Dec, 2019 | 5:25pm

MOT Tactics: Bielsa to make key change, Leeds wingers to dominate v one-dimensional Fulham

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


A few thoughts about the tactical ‘battle’ that will ensue on Saturday as Leeds United take on Fulham.

Fulham have obtained a weird status as being the team that everyone who is pushing for Championship promotion is worried about but who everyone from the Championship is beating…

They’re coming into this game off the back of three consecutive losses. This was especially pleasing for us because we predicted they would struggle against Top Six sides and, lo and behold, they have struggled against Top Six sides. It’s the small victories.

We’ve watched a few of Fulham’s recent games to work out why they’re struggling against Top Six sides and it’s not hard to see why. There are ominous signs.

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Here’s the set-up they played versus Brentford last weekend:

It’s a fairly standard 4-3-3. And ‘fairly standard’ is probably the best assessment we could give for why Fulham are struggling against the Top Six.

As a general principle, Fulham look to progress the ball through wide areas and get the ball into Mitrovic who has scored 16 goals already this season.

We say ‘look to progress’ because we’re not sure if that is what they are looking to do or just all they can do… Here’s a video that shows them attempting to build down the left-hand side:

This is what they do. A lot. So in terms of structured build-up play, they leave a lot to be desired.

This can be seen in the way their midfield operate. I don’t think we’ve seen a Championship side with a less cohesive midfield this season (which is saying something). There is very little off-ball movement in build-up and in defensive transitions… my goodness.

When the build-up breaks down, often it is in dangerous areas and the opposition can break quickly through the middle leaving Josh Onomah to clean up the mess.

As a result of this, it’s hardly surprising that Fulham have been conceding more box shots than they’ve created this season. There is a real lack of structure in any phase of play and they’re relying heavily on their elite Championship players to dig them out of holes.

We really wish we could say something more about them tactically but we’re not really convinced there is much more to say than that… The plan seems to be: keep the ball, move it wide and then find Mitrovic.

The caveat, then: we’ve just collapsed to a very average Cardiff team whose tactic was lump it in the box and see if something happens. Fulham play a more… elegant?… version of this with Aleksandr Mitrovic up front.

How, then, should Leeds set up against this Fulham side?

With a lone striker and two wide players, Leeds will likely go with the back four and then look to match three for three in the midfield areas, so the 4-1-4-1 should be back in service:

What do we like about this? Well, with Cooper back, there is less of an aerial threat from Mitrovic than if Berardi was playing. Between them, White and Cooper should be able to keep the big Serb quiet.

Expect Dallas at left back to deal with Cavaleiro. Cavaleiro is right-footed so it’s not so much about him being able to cut inside Bowen-like but rather to track him and then bring Alioski on late on for extra energy.

Because Fulham try to build down the wings, having both Costa and Harrison on the field should be a blessing. There will be a lot of space opening up behind the Fulham full backs:

Attacking in this way, will open Fulham out for the overload to isolate, giving up space for Harrison to exploit:

Off the ball, Fulham look to press fairly aggressively. They did this to Brentford although Brentford played through it pretty easily. They would be well advised not to try this against Leeds.

What will be interesting to see is how they come out against Leeds. Will they look to sit in a mid-block – invite possession but then press in their own half? Will they look to sit deeper and hit Leeds on the counter?

Or will they play as naively as they have in the past few games? We’re afraid we don’t even trust Scott Parker to be this self-reflective…

So: Fulham. A team of good players without a good manager. A team who can win games through individual brilliance or look painfully ambulatory. And a team who will almost certainly beat us on the basis of this thread.

In other Leeds United news, Jeff Stelling and Phil Thompson predict score for massive Leeds clash v Fulham