Subs S Taylor, Cooper , C Taylor, Tonge, Adryan, Doukara, Austin
International break is finally over and the business end of football returns this Saturday with Leeds having the benefit of a 12.15 kick-off, live on Sky Sports, against Birmingham. On paper, you have 2 very similar, and mediocre teams scrabbling around at the murky lower end of the Championship table. Almost equal in every category such as goals scored (Birmingham 4/Leeds 3), goals conceded (Birmingham 9/Leeds 8) and shot accuracy (Birmingham 37%/Leeds 34%) etc.; there is only a noticeable difference in passing accuracy (Birmingham 67%/Leeds 79%) and shots taken (Birmingham 52/Leeds 36). Both of these ‘skewed’ figures are important in the grand scheme of things because a.) if you don’t take enough shooting opportunities, you’ll not score enough goals and b.) passing leads to chances leads to goals…or so the theories go.
There was one enforced change to the starting XI with Swiss international Gaetano Berardi replacing the suspended Sam Byram in the right back position. On the substitutes’ bench Leeds saw the first appearance of Brazilian ‘wonderkid’ Adryan and the return of Rodolph Austin from injury. No two differing players could you imagine in the polar opposites of Adryan and Austin: flair against steel, beauty pitted against the beast.
The match started with Leeds showing some neat and patient passing and build up play in the first few minutes. As the half wore on, Birmingham came into the game more and posed more questions of Leeds, helped somewhat by Leeds’ inability to close players down thus giving them enough time on the ball to choose their passes and, at times, even settle down for a brew. On 12 minutes Leeds did something that momentarily stopped time; they tried a through ball – you heard it here, a through ball. The Leeds passing was, well, erm, ‘pretty’ in that it was tiki taka toe poke rather than hoof ball but like’ a Prom date, it was attractive to look at, promised a lot but gave you very little in return.
It was Leeds’ willingness to let Birmingham have enough time on the ball that led to them taking the lead. The ball was played to the left of the Leeds United penalty area and was played in by Brek Shea to Wes Thomas who took one touch and lashed it across Marco Silvestre in the Leeds’ goal and into the top corner. Then, as a result of the ferocity of the shot, there was a 7 minute delay whilst the Birmingham ground staff remembered their Scout training in knot tying as they struggled to replace a broken stanchion. Up until half time, Birmingham were using the ball well to pose questions for which Leeds had no answers apart from “durrrh”.
After the break, Leeds played much better, a vast improvement over the first phase of play. They were still playing the fanciness of tiki taka toe poke but there was a touch more purpose to their play; in fact there was more urgency across the whole team in general. In fact, in the 56th minute, Leeds had one of those rarities, for them, of a shot on target from Alex Mowatt and one that forced a save from the Birmingham goalkeeper Randolph. On 62 minutes, Leeds made a double substitution with Sharp and Sloth departing to make way for the entrances of Doukara and Austin. There wasn’t as much a seismic change in style of play from Leeds but there were subtle changes such as Austin and Doukara using their strength to run at Birmingham’s defenders and to pose them problems. After a few ‘half chances’, a swung-in cross from Tommaso Bianchi was headed out badly by Birmingham to Alex Mowatt who held off a defender, worked the ball into the box before switching it to his left foot and slotting it, across the Birmingham keeper, Darren Randolph, and into the bottom right corner. After that it was the proverbially clichéd ‘end-to-end’ stuff with both teams having decent chances but the game finally ended in a more than fair 1-1 draw.
Source Squawka.com and WhoScored.com
The defensive unit, as a whole, looked much more composed than of late, Bellusci again showing just why he’s called ‘the warrior’. Continuing his impressive partnership with Jason Pearce in the middle, the gave an element of solidity to what has been, at times, a pretty weak and unsettled back four. They, again, combined for a high number of clearances totalling 23 between them (Bellusci with 14 had just shy of 50% of the team’s total clearances). The only ‘low point’ for Bellusci was the ease in which he was turned by Wes Thomas for Birmingham’s goal. It was also good to see Swiss international Gaetano Berardi in a Leeds shirt after his 3 game suspension for the WWE-style two-footed waist high tackle against Accrington Stanley that earned him a straight red card.
To say that Leeds’ midfield was abjectly under-performing during the first 45 minutes is a little more polite than what I thought when I watched the game. I wrote a piece elsewhere that looked at just how each of the midfield players performed. It was the same old, same old levelled at them: the passing was accurate and neat but lacked any cutting thrust – all tiki taka toe pokery and no end product. However, over the course of the 90 minutes, Leeds as a team combined for a total of 528 passes with the 5 players who played in the Leeds midfield combining for 210 (40%) of these passes (WhoScored.com). Of the passes Leeds completed, 442 (83%) were classed as ‘short passes’, 68 (12%) were classed as ‘long balls’ and a low 18 (3%) were classed as ‘crosses’. Leeds held a ‘pass ratio’ of 0.60 over Birmingham, meaning that Leeds had 60% of the passing opportunities in the game – this showing a better control of possession, if not use of the ball. What was impressive is the continued solid play of Tommaso Bianchi who contributed 71 successful passes (83% accurate) and this is good enough to see him rise to be 7th ranked Championship midfielder based on average passes per game. All that Leeds United fans are hoping, wishing, clamouring for now is the first team debut of Adryan, the Brazilian wonderkind from Flamengo.
It was another forgetful day at the office for the Leeds United front two with neither Billy Sharp nor Mirco Antenucci registering a shot on target during the 90 minutes; Souleymane Doukara fared no better when coming on as a 62nd minute substitute. However, both Antenucci and Doukara did, at least, contribute in terms of chances created for others with 2 and 1 chances created respectively. Furthermore, Antenucci and Doukara also showed good link up play intentions with Antenucci completing 24 passes and Doukara 12 passes to team mates.
So, Neil Redfearn has had two undefeated games in charge that have garnered 4 points. At this rate we’ll be safe by Christmas and then the charge for the Premiership can really begin.
Next up Bournemouth on Tuesday 16th September – let’s hope Leeds can pop the Cherries.