MOT Tactics: Luton Town v Leeds United preview
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
- Luton Town v Leeds United
- Saturday, 3pm
Luton Town are an interesting one. They topped League One fairly comfortably, getting automatic promotion along with Barnsley. Since then, they have remained committed to their tactical approach under manager, Graeme Jones.
There are always questions to be asked about teams getting promoted and continuing with the system they used in the division below. Just look at how Sheffield United are playing in the Premier League this season.
Luton are doing this and it’s serving them okay. However, they’re hovering above the relegation zone. And with Stoke City and Huddersfield under new management, they could slip down into the bottom three.
But there is no saying that continuity won’t serve them well as the season goes on. In terms of formations, they line up in a 4-4-2 with a midfield diamond:
They have fielded this basic system in every game they have played this season. However, lest you think that makes them inflexible, there is a lot of overlap between the way Luton utilise their system and the way Leeds United do under Marcelo Bielsa.
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Take, for example, the most recent game that Luton played: a 3-0 away loss to Reading. With Reading playing 3-5-2, Jones tweaked his team in a manner similar to the way you might have expected Bielsa to – dropping the CM and going with a back three in effect:
Out of possession, they would drop into a back five. They did press in certain scenarios but most of their defensive pressure came in a mid-block: they were generally happy to let Reading possess in deep areas but tried to force them to go long.
When a higher press was appropriate — when the defence received the ball in pressure scenarios, e.g. — the front two and James Collins would press to force the ball. But they weren’t backed up by the rest of the team.
In possession, the full backs would push high and Luton would form a situational 3-4-3:
In fact, in certain situations, they almost look like they’re falling into the 3-3-1-3 set up that Leeds fans are so familiar with:
With Martin Cranie deep, Butterfield steps in as a CDM flanked by the pushed full backs and leaves Ryan Tunnicliffe as a sole central midfielder. The two forwards push wide and James Collins drives into the space left behind them.
Unsurprisingly, the style of football they play is nominally similar to that played by Leeds. They keep the ball on the floor, they look to find wide players and get players into the box.
Without an out-and-out striker, they rely more on midfield players driving through the middle. At times, they will look to find one of the strikers in the wide areas and then use Collins and the ball-far striker as a pairing in the box.
This should look pretty familiar to Leeds fans:
The question, then, is: how should Leeds line up against Luton?
There would seem to be two options here. With Luton fielding two strikers, expect Bielsa to field some iteration of a back three. On the one hand, he could simply try and match Luton’s 3-3-1-3:
There are three potential problems: the first is tactical — any game in which players match up one-to-one tends to become quite claggy. Remember the second half of Antonio Conte’s Premier League winning season where lots of managers matched his 3-4-3?
The second is personnel-based: this all depends on one of Barry Douglas or Ezgjan Alioski being fit. If they aren’t, then it might mean that Kalvin Phillips is forced into the back three allowing Dallas to play left back and Ayling to fill in at right back.
This is a fair disruption from what Leeds have been playing recently so it might put Bielsa off.
Finally, Graeme Jones might think twice against dropping one of his central midfielders if Leeds are playing a lone striker. This would see Luton back into their more anticipated back four:
This would allow them to control the central midfield areas but also comes at a cost. The 4-4-2 diamond is a narrow formation and Leeds are a team who are dangerous through the wide areas.
This would leave them exposed on the flanks: either you drop your full back and leave the opposing full backs with space or you push up and leave the wide attacker in space:
The other option is for Leeds to play the same sort of 3-5-2 formation that Reading played—a formation they have rolled out on a couple of occasions this season:
This has a couple of advantages: primarily, it allows you to solve the full back issue by playing Harrison as a wing back, as he has done on a number of occasions.
On top of this, playing Tyler Roberts as a second striker, you are forcing Luton to slip into their back three which suits Leeds better given they are playing a back three of their own and don’t want to encourage the structural problems that the 3-3-1-3 could bring.
The cons come predominantly from the fact that Luton could look to push their front two wide, isolating James Collins against Leeds’ central centre-back. However, given that Leeds should dominate possession, this seems a risk worth taking.
On paper, this is a game Leeds should sail through. But the structural uniqueness of Luton, along with Leeds’ injury concerns, could cause Leeds some problems. It should be an interesting tactical match-up however Leeds line up.
In other Leeds news: Should Leeds take QSI money and should Radrizzani retain control?