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
On Saturday we said Ben White did very well replacing Kalvin Phillips and that we actually improved in the game when he went to defensive midfield.
Last night it didn’t work which is a key part of what made the game such hard work for Leeds United.
We all know about Phillips’ defensive work – he’s the league leader in defensive duels and he’s the top destroyer in the championship, giving teams no time in the midfield and stealing it quickly to get Leeds back in possession.
Without him in the team, Leeds gave up more of the ball and had 57% possession last night, down from their average of 63 (first in the league).
White’s positioning at centre back is exceptional, but being unfamiliar with the defensive midfield role, the 22-year-old was lacking there, meaning Boro looked more dangerous than they should have. However, we want to talk about Leeds with the ball.
You may have noticed Leeds going long regularly yesterday. This isn’t something that they never do, in fact in some games it’s been a tactic to try and release players in behind early, but last night it was a lot more aimless.
We believe this is because White did not offer for the ball in the same way that Kalvin does. Look at Cooper and Berardi’s pass maps (blue success, red fail). Lots of sideways passes, lots of long balls forward from Cooper, barely any short passes into the midfield area.
This is also reflected in pass combinations to Ben White. He only received the ball from the centre backs twice in the whole game! That is nothing like normal for Leeds as Kalvin receives the ball from them regularly.
To illustrate this, here are pass combinations to Phillips for the last away game at Griffin Park. Kalvin received the ball from the centre backs a combined 28 times. This kept Leeds in possession of the ball and allowed them to build the play.
Looking at Ben White’s pass map from last night compared to Kalvin’s v Brentford the contrast in involvement is stark.
We could say that it’s harsh on White here as by putting him in midfield we’re losing our best centre back in possession, White himself, but Berardi has been more than capable in the role when he’s played this season.
It will have an impact, but the biggest issue is lack of experience in the defensive midfield position from White.
We all know he’s a fantastic centre back. Leeds will hope that Kalvin Phillips is back as soon as possible and White can be restored to where he’s comfortable.
In other Leeds United news, ‘You know what?’ – Ally McCoist predicts what will happen to Bamford after latest blank