Spanner, check! Wrench, check! Bolt on? Are you nuts?

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Leeds Warnock

Leeds team vs Bolton 30th August 2014

GK Silvestri

 

LB Warnock DC Pearce DC Bellusci RB Wooton

 

LM Cook CM Bianchi CM Sloth RM Mowatt

 

ST Antenucci ST Sharp

 

Subs S Taylor, Cooper ,C Taylor, Dawson, Tonge, Benedicic, Smith

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” goes the oft-used English adage; oft used by those who cannot be bothered to do something and are happy to postpone it until the next opportunity or when they can shake off their current apathy. There have been Leeds fans clamouring that plenty was broken down LS11 way and, after a woefully dismal display against ‘noisy neighbours’ Bradford City, il capo dei capi Cellino removed Coach Hockaday from his position at Elland Road. For today’s home game against Bolton, Academy boss Neil Redfearn is in charge and hoping for a much better result than last year’s corresponding game at Elland Road – a 5-1 loss and a game where Leeds were totally outclassed.

Things really haven’t been going well for Leeds United over the opening 6 games of the Championship 2014/15 and Carling Cup campaigns with the team receiving more red cards (4) than League points (3). Today’s game sees Sam Byram miss the second of his compulsory 3 game suspension for his dismissal against Watford but Leeds do welcome back Gaetano Berardi after his 3 game suspension for an attempted roundhouse kick in the Carling Cup win against Accrington Stanley and Giuseppe Bellusci following his 1 game suspension after his recent sending of at Watford. There has also been some transfer movement at Elland Road with Danish international Casper Sloth signing from AGF Aarhus and he has been allocated the number 33 shirt; there are also rumours of more signings at Leeds United with Adryan’s long drawn-out saga and tug-o-war between Leeds-Cagliari-Flamenco to be finally sorted and also rumours of an impending signing of young Italian U19 international defender Dario del Fabro.

The team news sees a repeat of the defensive unit that was fielded in the Carling Cup tie with Scott Wooton filling in at right back for the suspended Sam Byram and Bellusci again partnering Pearce in the centre of defence. Stephen Warnock, ever present this season, maintains the left back position. The midfield unit, barring Tommaso Bianchi is all changed with Lewis Cook following up 47 minutes of cameo performances with a place in the starting line-up, Alex Mowatt returning from injury for his first game of the Championship campaign and newly signed Danish midfielder Casper Sloth getting the nod for the fourth midfield position. Up front, Italian Mirko Antenucci again starts partnering Billy Sharp.

What was instantly noticeable from the first whistle was the more impressive passing that, at times, was so effective that Leeds were creating chances…not many chances but some. There was also better movement and link up play throughout the whole team with the runs of Mirko Antenucci being especially noteworthy. It was a combination of this that led to Stephen Warnock’s goal on 17 minutes; some say a mishit cross, other don’t care as a goal is a goal and Leeds fans don’t care where they come from. After the goal, Leeds took a hold of the game and began to create more chances and put together better phases of play. After half time, Bolton upped their game and went at Leeds more, forcing Leeds onto back foot more. Leeds’ frailties began to show more as the game progressed with Bolton ending up having 22 shot attempts as opposed to Leeds’ 7; a total shot ratio (TSR) of 0.61. Leeds were kept in the game due to the heroics of goalkeeper Marco Silvestre who made 8 saves including one from former Leeds’ favourite Jermaine Beckford who entered the field as a second half substitute to a round of applause from Leeds fans alongside a rendition of “You’re Leeds and you know you are.” Leeds themselves made 2 substitution of their own; Stephen Warnock leaving the action injured on 55 minutes and replaced by youngster Charlie Taylor whilst debutant Casper Sloth (it’s pronounced Slott apparently) exited on 78 minutes to be replaced by AC Milan loanee Zan Bendicic who gained his first taste of Championship action.

Bolton1

Marco Silvestre performed heroics in the Leeds United goal to keep both a clean sheet and to help deliver a very welcome 3 points. He made 7 saves, including one from former Leeds hero Jermaine Beckford and then clawed back the follow-up shot from the line; he also, deservedly, won the man-of-the-match award. His distribution accuracy was way down on previous weeks with 28%; this being the result of having to clear a higher than usual number of back passes from team-mates (11 today). His overall distribution distance is up from previous weeks at 62 metres mainly due to the fact he didn’t elect to distribute using thrown out balls which have a lower distribution distance. Silvestre’s ‘kicks from hand’ and ‘goal kicks’ both showed an increased distance over all previous returns with distances of 68 and 62 metres respectively.

Bolton2

After the recent debacles in defence, Leeds were due a decent performance and this time they delivered; this performance going some way to wiping away the nastiness seen in previous games. At times suspect, at times strong, Leeds’ defence played as a unit. In his first game back after his one game suspension for hacking down Forestieri in the Watford game, Bellusci showed just why Leeds chose to pay for his services. What was particularly impressive about his performance was his partnership with Jason Pearce in the middle. They combined for a high number of clearances totalling 28 between them (Pearce 15, Bellusci 13) as part of a team total of 36 clearances. Another important part of Bellusci’s game was the high proportion of aerial duels he has won (75%) and the 2 interceptions that he made. As a defensive unit, the 5 players used on Saturday totalled 141 ‘performance points’ (Squawka) with Bellusci and Stephen Warnock leading the way with 46 and 42 points respectively.

Bolton3

‘Chances were at a Premium’ is a phrase that is used so often in football that it has gone beyond clichéd and met it on the way back. Leeds’ midfield has been lacking in creative input thus far this season; this midfield saw three changes with Austin (injured), Murphy (suspended) and Tonge (dropped) bei replaced by Alex Mowatt, Lewis Cook and new signing Casper Sloth. Leeds have been a busy midfield this season, if not very productive but today it was changes that led to chances. The ‘changed’ midfield still maintained the high number of passes (table above) but this time they created chances, 4 of them, yes 4 chances. Alex Mowatt, in his first game of the season created 2 of the chances and Tommaso Bianchi also weighed in with his first 2 created chances of the season. Zan Benedicic also came on, replacing Casper Sloth, for a brief 12 minute cameo introduction to Championship football. From the San Siro to Elland Road, Benedicic would have hardly noticed the change. This all bodes well as Leeds head into the two week International break and presents a selection headache what with the announced signing of Adryan, the Brazilian starlet from Cagliari via Flamengo.

Bolton4

Billy Sharp’s contribution was tidy and he did benefit from some of the created chances by unleashing 2 shots. Sharp also helped to create 2 chances and also completed 15 passes. It was the contribution of Mirko Antenucci that had fans and commentators alike salivating. Whilst not scoring, he did everything else that he could to the benefit of the greater good. Antenucci made some incisive runs which forced the defence to scramble and he also completed 20 passes to others; his link up play, bridging the midfield and bringing others in to play was also a strength he displayed. To round off his impressive individual contribution, he helped to create one of Leeds’ 7 chances and also had a shot opportunity – which wasn’t on target.

So, to round off, a change in personnel brought about a change in fortunes. In the aftermath of the Hock-a-days, Neil Redfearn made changes that brought about change. It was nice to see a Leeds midfield not over-run for once and one that’s creating chances.

After this narrow victory, after 5 games Leeds are 3 points off the Playoff places.

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Thoughts on Bolton – match preview

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The expressions say it all

The expressions say it all

Well, what a week. A Leeds coach who has the same timespan as one of my relationships and a bitter pill to swallow in the shape of a defeat to noisy neighbours Bradford City. To round it off we have a game tomorrow against Bolton.

The bitterness of a 5-1 reversal in the corresponding fixture at Elland Road still burns deeply in the mindset of most Leeds fans. Bolton currently sit one place below Leeds in the Championship table which takes some doing considering how abjectly poor we’ve been this season.

Despite being in what psychologists call a ‘bad place’; things still tick over on the day-to-day club front at Elland Road. Danish international Casper Sloth has put Bic biro to paper as have two other reported ‘signings’: Brazilian wonderkid Adryan and Italian U19 central defender Dario del Fabro.

Whatever happens, after such a week of turmoil and bitter defeat, in the words of D:ream “Things can only get better.”

Around 16.48 tomorrow will be  better time to judge that sentiment.

Billy Sharp blunts the ‘Boro – Middlesbrough match report

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Leeds team vs Middlesbrough 16thth August 2014

                     GK Silvestri

RB Byram DC Pearce DC Cooper LB Warnock

                     DMC Austin

              MC Murphy MC Bianchi

                      AMC Ajose

                ST Doukara ST Sharp

Subs: S Taylor, C Taylor, Wooton, Cook, Tonge, Smith, Poleon

Harold Wilson, ex-Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, is reputed to have said, “A week’s a long time in Politics.” Looking back at Leeds United’s abject failure against Millwall in their opening game of the Championship 2014/15 campaign, you’d be forgiven in thinking that Leeds would be on a downward spiral of such epic proportions that they’d reach rock bottom in super-quick time and, more-than-likely, pass the Devil himself on the way. However, fast forward 7 days, via a mixed 2-1 victory over Accrington Stanley in the Capital One Cup, and with 8 of the very same players who tasted defeat at Millwall and Leeds come away with a 1-0 victory over Middlesbrough.Capture1 Boro

Marco Silvestre had a busier game today against Middlesbrough than he did against Millwall last week, despite not conceding today. When called upon to exhibit his goalkeeping duties, he was what most Leeds’ fans want from their #1; he was solid and dependable. Silvestre’s distribution accuracy today (measured where the ball reaches an intended team-mate) was lower at 48% accuracy than it was during the defeat to Millwall (66% accurate); he was accurate on all 3 of his throws to team-mates with an average throw distribution of 21 metres. Another positive that Marco Silvestre can take from today’s game is that he was 100% successful on the 3 catches he chose to make.

Capture2 Boro

In today’s game, Steven Warnock was again Leeds United’s most capable defender. Building on last week’s ‘overall’ and ‘defensive’ scores of 18.02 and 22.35 respectively (sourced from Squawka.com), Warnock achieved even better ratings for today’s game of 57.77 (overall performance) and 61.75 (defensive). He showed an increase over last week’s production across all categories making more interceptions this game with 6 (last game 5), making a blocked shot attempt this game (last game 0) and making 8 clearances this game (last game 5). In fact, Warnock’s interception average of 5.5 per game over the opening 2 games ranks him as the highest rated defender in this category (WhoScored.com) .

Perhaps the biggest turnaround, again based on Squawka.com ratings), is that achieved by Leeds’ captain Jason Pearce. Last week’s performance, in the opening game against Millwall, could be termed a ‘howler’, some may even say a ‘nightmare’ of a performance. Pearce managed only meagre ‘overall’ and ‘defensive’ scores of -15.35 and -2.70 respectively; yes negative ratings! However, come this week’s better performance and Jason Pearce’s ratings ‘skyrocket’ with his ‘overall’ rating going up to 42.28 for today’s game (an improvement of 57.63) and his ‘defensive’ rating rising to 49.34 (an improvement of 52.04). By glancing at the above table, and comparing the cumulative totals with those from today’s game against Middlesbrough, it is clear to see that improved ‘interception’ and ‘blocked shots’ totals have contributed to Jason Pearce’s improved rating this week. A caveat that may be worrying for Leeds’ fans is that he (Jason Pearce) only wins 37.50% of his aerial duels; a low total for a centre back.

Capture3 Boro

Leeds’ midfield still seems to possess one glaringly obvious weakness when taking into consideration the wishes of Coach Hockaday to play ‘passing football’; they don’t pass often enough. The Leeds player with the most passes attempted this season is Rodolph Austin (116 attempted passes – 92 completed – success rate 79%) which is good enough to place him as 15th ranked midfield player when taking into account average passes per game (AvgP) of 59; these figures being taken from WhoScored.com.  What is of interest is this; seeing as Leeds had a low pass frequency from their midfield last season, how do they fare when compared to players this season over the course of the first two games when looking at their AvgP.

Capture4 Boro

Considering Coach Hockaday wishes Leeds United to be a ‘passing team’, the figures in the above table do not make fantastic reading for Hockaday’s team debriefs come Monday morning. It is quite stark in the glaring weaknesses it shows; Leeds United midfield players don’t attempt anywhere near enough passes per game and not with anywhere near enough accuracy. It is also worth noting that both Fulham and Wolverhampton Wanderers have 2 midfield players in the top 10 Championship midfield players ranked on their Avg P totals. Fulham have Scott Parker (ranked 1st with 92.5 Avg P – 87% success) and Emerson Hyndman (ranked 7th with 70 Avg P – 90% success) whilst Wolverhampton have Kevin McDonald (ranked 2nd with 83 Avg P – 84.3% success) and Lee Evan (ranked 3rd with 79 Avg P – 86.1% success); surely these are the figures that Coach Hockaday will want to encourage in a ‘passing first’ team. It is also worth noting that both Fulham and Wolverhampton Wanderers defenders rank in the top 10 for Avg P as wellCapture5 Boro

sharp 2

Leeds started today’s game with a 4-1-2-1-2 Diamond formation with Billy Sharp and Souleymane Doukara starting ‘up top’ in the main two striker positions. There’s not a lot that can really be read into the figures from today’s game. Sharp and Doukara both created a single chance each with their play. It is worth noting however that it was Poleon’s neat layoff from a pin-point Murphy pass that led to Michael Tonge’s shot and ultimately Billy Sharp’s ‘tap-in’ goal from the spilled shot. It would be nice to see Doukara replicating the form that brought him 2 goals midweek against Accrington Stanley but hopefully that will come as he becomes more acclimatised to the Championship game.

It seems ex-Prime Minister Wilson was correct and it appears that a week is a long time in both Politics and Football. A much improved defensive performance over the abjectly woeful and at times pitiful display against Millwall on the opening day of the season last weekend gave Leeds a much more solid base to build upon resulting in a much-needed victory; albeit by an 88th minute goal from new signing Billy Sharp. Saying that, the midfield still show signs that they need to pick up their passing game and present a more creative threat when going forwards.

 

Thrown to the Lions’ Den – Millwall match report

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Leeds team vs Millwall 8th August 2014

GK Silvestri,

RB Byram, DC Pearce DC Wootton, LB Warnock

MC Austin MC Murphy MLTonge, MR Ajose

ST Hunt ST Doukara

Subs: S Taylor, Killock, Berardi, Cook, Benedicic, Smith, Poleon

Well, first Saturday of the new football season and that all-too-familiar feeling as a Leeds fan…not sure what practicing medical people would call it but we simply call it ‘depression’. All that anticipation, all those scenarios, all the transfer buzz, with the odd let down, and it comes down to 3p.m. on Saturday. Preseason is over, cast aside as meaningless, and the business end of football is presented – the start of a new Championship campaign.

The Manic Street Preachers sang a song that asked the question, “From Despair to Where?” That question began to be answered in the 8th minute when Mark Beevers scored as the result of a badly-defended short corner and was resoundingly put to bed with Shaun Williams converting an 88th minute penalty.

Leeds arrived boasting an impressive 11 win return from the last 14 opening day fixtures (11 wins, 1 draw, 2 losses) but a less than impressive 3 wins in the last 8 encounters with Millwall; a record that included 5 defeats. It didn’t make for impressive listening from the opening shrill peep of the referee’s whistle to its final languid screech. Internet fan sites and Facebook groups are awash with calls for sackings, change of tactics and a cull more brutal and rapid than either of the creation of France’s First Republic and the deposition of their monarchy in 1792 or the creation of a communist Russia in 1917. The question needs to be asked though – were Leeds really that bad against Millwall?

Capture1 Millwall

Source Squawka.com

It’s hard to really judge goalkeeper Marco Silvestre on the basis of today’s performance. He did what was asked of him, when it was asked of him. There was nothing he could do about either goal; the first was the result of poor marking at a short corner and the second goal came via the lottery of a penalty. He made 2 saves during the game and caught cleanly the 2 efforts he was called into action for. Judgements, however, can be made when looking at the contribution from the ‘back four’ where there are glaringly apparent differences.

Looking at the overall ‘scores’ for the game it is apparent that the two central defenders, Scott Wooton and Jason Pearce, didn’t have the best of games; both players ending up with negative returns for their contributions (-4.31 and -15.35 respectively). Glancing across the table, it is clear that both have suffered a large movement from their defensive scores when their overall contributions are taken into account; Jason Pearce suffering a 12.65 point slide and Scott Wooton a 10.26 point slide (which includes an ‘aerial duel’ score of 2 (28.57% success) where he was beaten 5 times by an opponent. The figures themselves show that Jason Pearce was particularly ineffective in a defensive capacity with a -2.70 Defensive Score which includes 0 tackles, 0 interceptions, 0 blocks and 9 clearances.

The two ‘outside’ defenders, Steven Warnock and Sam Byram emerge with some credit and both positive ‘total’ and ‘defensive’ scores. Warnock, lambasted in certain Facebook groups and held up to be the ‘blame for all evils’, actually emerges with creditable ‘overall’ and ‘defensive’ scores of 18.02 and 22.35 respectively. Particularly impressive in Steven Warnock’s figures were the 5 interceptions that he made as opposing players attempted to get into meaningful positions.

An interesting comparison can be made between both Leeds United’s central defenders and that of Tom Lees, who left Leeds United on a recent transfer. Lees gained mightily impressive ‘total’ and ‘defensive’ scores of 66.42 and 54.66 respectively; the reason for this increase was, in part, due to an impressive return of 22 passes with 90% accuracy.

Capture2 Millwall

Source Squawka.com

Leeds United’s problem last season seemed to be a midfield that, barring Rodolph ‘$6 Million Dollar Man’ Austin, was largely uncreative and over the course of the 2013/14 Championship campaign largely unproductive and decidedly mediocre. Today’s performance in SW16 did absolutely nothing to allay that hangover from last season. The first half commentary told of an endless over-running of the Leeds’ midfield by seemingly rampant Millwall players but what is more worrying for Leeds’ fans is the fact that successful passing, the ‘bread and butter’ of a midfield player’s role, was only 1/3 accomplished on Saturday 8th of August with Michael Tonge and Luke Murphy returning 33 and 21 successful passes respective (% accuracy being 79% and 75%). Whilst the accuracy rates are acceptable, it is the low number of successful passes that each player, Tonge and Murphy, made that helps to illustrate the problems that Leeds faced today. Michael Tonge does emerge with some credit though insomuch as he has a positive ‘total’ of 14.87 and opposed to Luke Murphy’s disappointingly low ‘total’ of -1.28; this being the result of a ‘possession’ score of -1.94 and an ‘attack’ score of -3.62, this being from one of Leeds’ foremost ‘creative’ players. They say “cometh the hour, cometh the man” – yet again Rodolph Austin turns in a solid ‘total’ score of 23.45. As well as a solid ‘defence’ score of 11.58, Austin augmented this with a ‘possession’ score of 10.41. This latter score was based on a number of passes attempted (74) that returned a high number of both completed passes and accurate passing (62 successful passes and 89% accurate). As I have mentioned,  I view Austin as an integral cog in the Leeds United midfield with his solid displays and willingness to track back and defend solidly; the figures from today’s game seem to bear this point out.

Capture3 Millwall

Source Squawka.com

Leeds initially deployed a 4-3-3 formation, a formation used last season only 5 times and returning 7 points from a possible 15; before switching to a more standard 4-4-2 after Lewis Cook replaced the disappointing Souleymane Doukara in the 64th minute. It would be too harsh to judge Doukara on this appearance bearing in mind two things worth considering: a.) he plays better when the more creative Tommaso Bianchi is playing (suspended this game) and b.) his recent performances in pre-season games. Leeds were unfortunate that Steve Morison (two goals in last two pre-season games) was injured which meant that Leeds started the game with a front three that hadn’t had ‘game time’ together. The only Leeds starting attacker to emerge from the game with any degree of credit was recent recruit Nicky Ajose (ex of Peterborough) who achieved a positive ‘total’ return of 19.1 points based on individual scores of: attacking score 3.57, possession score of 6.88 and a defence score of 9.26 which indicated Ajose’s willingness to track back. The introduction of out-of-favour striker Matt Smith brought an improvement to the Leeds’ game but the scarcity of chances and opportunities isn’t the fault of the front line. Leeds’ front 3, initially, and front two, later in the game, were let down by the failings in the middle of the park. Nicky Ajose (13 league goals) was signed; to provide some way of chipping away at Ross McCormack’s 28 goals for Leeds last season.

If Leeds don’t improve, if the midfield don’t start to get a grip on games and provide chances for the strikers then, they might as well have the Manic Street Preachers blaring their hit ‘La Tristresse Durera’ (The Sadness Endures) over the tannoy a it will be a long, long season of misery.

Let down by Murphy’s Law

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I like things that are reassuringly simple to understand, I’m a ‘Luddite’ in that respect. Change doesn’t as much un-nerve or scare me as make me feel a tad apprehensive. You walk into work and your Boss is overly nice to you; you don’t think ‘What a refreshing change,’ but instead wonder ‘What have I done’ or ‘Were there cameras around last night at the office party’. Being a Leeds United fan has none of that uncertainty or apprehension; I wake up after every game day, be it League or Cup, with the same, reassuring feeling that we played as badly last night as we did in the previous games. Then the football merry-go-round kicks in and the hope springs eternal for the next game.

Last night was the League/Carling Cup 2nd Round against local rivals and oft thought ‘noisy neighbours’ Bradford City. Result-wise, a 2-1 loss was reassuringly bad and slotted easily into my Luddite-esque manner of football thinking. We were beaten on the night courtesy of a well-struck half volley and, mere moments later, a headed in effort resulting from calamitous defending between Jason Pearce and Liam Cooper. But, how bad/good/indifferently apathetic was the performance last night from Leeds United?

Match Stats

Goals Possession Shots Target Saves Corners
Bradford 2 55% 14 7 1 9
Leeds 1 45% 9 2 3 1

Stats interpretation

  • Bradford on target/shot ratio 0.50 (14 shots – 7 on target – 50% accuracy)
  • Leeds on target/shot ratio 0.22 (9 shots – 2 on target – 22% accuracy)
  • Bradford saves/shots on target ratio 0.50
  • Leeds saves/shots on target ratio 0.43

Leeds actually found themselves in a position they aren’t accustomed to in the first 30 minutes of the game; they were in the ascendency and, in a manner, controlling the game. Then, just as at Primary school when the ‘one kid’ does something reprehensible that leads to the teacher screaming “There’s ALWAYS one who spoils it for the rest,” Luke Murphy went in with a recklessly daft challenge that meant a second yellow card and a sending off. That’s when the game changed and momentum began to turn the way of Bradford City.

They showed composure on the ball, working it around, making the Leeds players move and thus depleting their energy; for these Leeds players it was going to be one long hour. Manfully, Leeds’ players stuck to the task and chased and harried as best they could against Bradford’s superiority in numbers. Half time came and it was still even at 0-0, honours shared I guess you could say.

The second half started well for Leeds who took the initiative and brought the game to Bradford. To be fair to Leeds, for 29 minutes of the 2nd half it would have been hard to tell that they were playing ‘a man light’. On 82 minutes Leeds took the lead courtesy of a Matt Smith header after an excellent cross into the box from David Norris.

The Bradford reply can only be termed as swift because on 84 minutes they were level thanks to a sweetly struck half-volley from Billy Knott after Leeds failed to deal with a corner; two minutes after that they struck the winning goal from James Hanson after a defensive mix up between Jason Pearce and Liam Cooper.

Bradford City v Leeds United

It was a disappointing way to end a tight game played with passion after a very silly sending off. In front of 18,750 fans, including around 4,000 travelling Leeds United fans, Bradford City emerged victorious and progressed to the 3rd round where they will face MK Dons who destroyed Manchester United 4-0 in their second round match-up.

Peacocks in the Bantam’s coop – A Leeds perspective.

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Picture credit - Telegraph and Argus

Picture credit – Telegraph and Argus

I know what it is like to feel the fire and fury of rivalry. My father was a Manchester United fan, I didn’t hate him for that. On the Council estate I grew up on and scrabbled around in the mud and dust on, almost every street had some sort of rivalry going on; it was usually over ‘mibs’.

“Hey you’re not laikin’ right!” was often the herald to an argument over rules, a fall-out over superiority and then much stomping and huffing about whose Dad’s, mate’s, uncle’s friend who was in the Army was the biggest; then you went in for your banana sandwiches and sat down to watch $6 Million Man or Supergran. Then, it was never about football.

Now it is all about football.

I can’t help it, I’m a Leeds’ fan. You can have many girlfriends, many loves but, when it comes to football, your first love is your only love; no matter who you’ve watched first live. I actually used to go to Valley Parade to watch Bradford, happily trailing along behind my father in the rain to watch a Bantam’s side containing Ces Podd. I even went to Elland Road to watch one of the three games Braford played there after the tragic events of the 1985 fire at Valley Parade.

By then though, my love affair and eventual marriage to Leeds had set in and set in deep. Like a first sip of cider in the park – an older boy was to blame. However, unlike the cider my taste for Leeds United stuck with me.

Wednesday August 27th and one of the fiercest local rivalries fires up one more time – Leeds bring their circus to Valley Parade (even in my eyes it’ll never be T’Coral Windows Stadium) in a direct repeat of the game from August 9th 2011. Bradford will be hoping to continue their surging start to the 2014/15 League 1 campaign whilst Leeds, on the other hand, will be hoping that they play more like Roy of the Rovers and less like Roy Cropper from Coronation Street.

History, unfortunately my friends from the BD postcodes, isn’t on the side of the Bantams. There have been 23 competitive games between the two sides stretching back to 23rd September 1922 with Leeds winning 14, Bradford winning 2 and with 7 draws. In this time Leeds have scored 35 goals (1.52 per game) with Bradford scoring just 20 goals (0.87 per game). Put another way, Leeds have emerged victorious 61% OF THE TIME WITH Bradford claiming only 8.7% of the victories – the Leeds victories containing both League Cup games in the 1998/99 and 2011/12 seasons.

It’s an often-used cliché that playing at ‘home’ is like having a 12th man on the field; at Elland Road we would crawl through minefields of broken glass for that luxury at the moment! But a closer look at the games played at Valley Parade, where Leeds will be aiming for their 5th and Bradford their 3rd victories come Wednesday 27th August throws up one interesting nugget of a statistic. In the 10 games that have been played between the two team there, both teams have scored 9 goals each (0.9 goals per game). This suggests the potential for a tight game, where chances are at a premium and composure in front of goal is key. That depends on which Leeds United team turns up and how Coach Whackaday (there are worse names bandied around) has prepared them.

Indulge me whilst I talk about Leeds for a moment. There is a degree of mixed feelings up in LS11 what with Cellino’s insistence on recruiting his very own legiona stranieri (Foreign Legion) to the club. His thinking behind this is one that will resonate with all football fans – irrespective of club allegiance. Quite simply, English footballers are a.) too greedy or b.) too expensive or c.) both. Take Kieran Agard who had a stellar season at Rotherham last year scoring 26 goals across all competitions including 2 in an FA Cup tie. Leeds had a bid accepted but Agard’s agent marched in with a list of demands; after 4 minutes he was told by Massimo Cellino to leave and that he wasn’t wanted. Now he has dropped back down into League 1 with Bristol City. Bearing that in mind, who will Leeds United roll up with come Wednesday 27th and how are they likely to play?

Looking at recent games, Bradford can only hope that Leeds play badly – something that I am sure we can easily accommodate. With the signing of Giuseppe Bellusci (from Catania), Leeds are buying in a player with 5 seasons (7459 minutes) worth of Serie A experience to shore up what has been a decidedly suspect and cumbersome central defender pairing – it’s a pity that this Italian ‘ferro’ (iron) is banned after a reckless red card against Watford at the weekend . Liam Cooper was signed from Chesterfield and he deposed Scott Wooton (ex-Manchester United) to play alongside club captain Jason Pearce. Harshly put, either Pearce or Cooper will be axed in the long run; Cooper will probably benefit from Bellusci’s enforced game on the sideline and Sheffield United have shown tentative admiration of Jason Pearce.

Midfield-wise, that’s where Leeds’ weakness lays; a unit that has carried over the ‘mediocre and mid-table’ tag from last season’s campaign. As it stands, the Leeds midfield isn’t very creative, has no real pace and no natural wide players; ‘wide’ as in wingers – not as in Neville Southall. Or Paddy Kenny for that matter. Rodolph Austin and Michael Tonge are the pick of the central four with Austin being ranked 15th midfield player for average passes per game (60 – 83% accurate – source WhoScored.com) and who was the top-ranked defensive midfield player on the books at Leeds. Tommaso Bianchi (signed from then Serie B Sassuolo – who are now plying their trade in Italy’s Serie ‘A’) is a ball-playing central midfielder being played out of position on the right side of midfield by Coach Whackaday in his much-derided ‘4-4-2 Diamond’. With this system, Whackaday has achieved at least one first; it apparently is possible to polish a diamond and get a turd! Leeds’ weak link, in a midfield that often resembles scene from Rorke’s Drift in the film ‘Zulu’, is Luke Murphy – a former £1 million signing from Crewe Alexandra. Over 260 minutes of 2014/15 Championship football Murphy has shown very little: 22 successful passes per game, less than one shot per game (0.67) but he does create chances for others (1.67 per game). There is also a distinct possibility that Coach Whackaday might give young Lewis Cook a run out in midfield and use recent AC Milan youngster Jan Benedicic at some point in the game.

Up front it is more straight-forward; Billy Sharp and recent signing Mirko Antenucci (19 goals – Serie B Ternana 2013/14) are likely to pose the striking threat.

Billy Sharp celebrate his debut goal vs Middlesbrough

Picture credit: Yorkshire Evening Post

Picture credit: Yorkshire Evening Post

Rivalry-wise Leeds United are still entrenched in the ‘Everybody hates us, we don’t care’ attitude carried over from the 1970s to the present day. As a rational-thinking Leeds fan, well I like to think I am presented that way, I actually hate that dated ‘terrace mentality’; something that I find as a club we need to move away from. There are still chants about “Man Utd” and songs about “Chelsea hatred” sung on the terraces of Elland Road which, in all honesty, make us look like the pond-dwelling lowlife we are often accused of. Terrace-wise, as a club, we need to climb out of the dinosaur era and embrace the modern world of a banter-led approach. There were encouraging signs of this in a 4-0 FA Cup defeat to Manchester City when Leeds’ fans responded to the 4th Man City goal with a rousing chant of “shoes off, if you hate Man Utd” – and the removal of many shoes that were waved in the air. No doubt though there will be chants about Bradford being a “town full of taxis” and the Neanderthal element of the Leeds’ support will show more nasty tendencies.

So, how will tonight’s game pan out; who will taste the nectar of victory and who will taste he salty tears of defeat. Chances-wise, I’d like to fall back on the clichéd phrases of “it’ll be a long hard game”, “Leeds will have too much class for Bradford” and “the difference in a division apart means Leeds’ superior class will tell in the end”…but I can’t. This game is a hard one to call; Bradford are confident and flying high in League 1 whilst Leeds are scrabbling around looking for crumbs in the Championship. I suppose I will have to end by putting my neck on the line and come up with some kind of prediction and game synopsis.

I’m predicting a tight, close game with Leeds coming out 2-1 to the good; it would, for Leeds fans, be good to shut up the ‘noisy neighbours from down the M62’. Then again I am not that confident about that but, like the beggar I once encountered on the Madrid underground, one can only begin with ‘esperanza’ (hope) and eventually get off at ‘prosperidad’ (wealth). Whatever the result, I really do hope that we will be meeting each other in 2 guaranteed games next season with Bradford making the step up to the Championship.

Leeds hope to play the Fidel over Castro

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Lucas CastroRumours abound that Massimo Cellini’s Leeds United are in the market for another addition to their ever-growing ‘legiona stranieri’ with eyes being turned towards Argentinian midfielder Lucas Castro who played last season with Catania, recently relegated from Italy’s Serie A. During his 2 seasons playing for Catania, after his 2012 transfer from Argentinian top tier side Racing Club for a fee of €2 million, Castro has accrued exactly 4,000 minutes of top-tier Italian football (equivalent to 44 games) over the 2012/13 and 2013/14 seasons. Over these two season with Catania, Castro also brings 7 goals at a rate of one every 571 minutes of football action.

When thinking of Leeds United midfield players, perhaps the most ‘attack-minded’ midfield player on the books is £1 million signing Luke Murphy. This leave a pertinent question being this; ‘Just how does Castro’s contribution stand up against that of Luke Murphy?’

Table comparing Lucas Castro and Luke Murphy – passing

Per 90 metrics Attack Successful Passes Passing Accuracy Key Passes Chances Created Assist
Lucas Castro 2012/13 24.89 32.9 80% 1.06 1.32 0.26
Lucas Castro 2013/14 9.55 23.83 74% 1.55 1.65 0.09
Luke Murphy 2013/14 6.95 24.02 72% 1.33 1.39 0.06

 The per 90 metric gives an idea of what a player is capable of over the course of 90 minutes worth of football and gives a fairer comparison between players where there is a disparity of time played (Castro 2013/14 – 1968 mins; Murphy 2013/14 – 3039 mins). The above table indicates that Castro’s 2012/13 performance is, in parts, better than Luke Murphy’s 2013/14 season at Leeds United: he has more succcessful passes per 90 (31.9 vs 24.02), a higher passing accuracy (80% vs 72%); whereas Murphy comes out on top with more key passes per 90 (1.33 vs 1.06) and slightly more chances created per 90 (1.39 vs 1.32). What is worth noting, however, is Castro’s improved performance in two key areas where Leeds United are currently lacking: key passes and chances created. Castro created 1.65 chances per 90 last season and made 1.55 key passes. Whilst Luke Murphy’s 2013/14 production isn’t that far of Lucas Castro’s 2013/14 marks, his (Murphy’s 2014/15 figures are much more comparable – albeit over only 4 games (350 mins) of play. This season, Murphy has ‘key passes’ per 90 and ‘chances created’ per 90 figures of 1.54; only marginally down on Lucas Castro’s returns from last season.  Going on the above figures does seem to indicate that Leeds would not be gaining a significant upgrade with the loan/purchase of Lucas Castro. One interesting number that Lucas Castro returns, which I didn’t include in the above table (due to not having a direct comparison with Luke Murphy), is the number of ‘final third’ passes per 90 that Castro makes. In the 2012/13 Serie A campaign, Castro made 17.2 final third passes per 90 (71% accuracy); in 2013/14 this number dropped slightly to 16.7 final third passes per 90 (66% accuracy). This area is one area where Leeds United are currently lacking, that ‘killer ball’ in the final phase of passing.

Table comparing Lucas Castro and Luke Murphy – shooting

Per 90 metrics Shots Inside Area Outside Area Accuracy
Lucas Castro 2012/13 2.34 1.32 1.02 41%
Lucas Castro 2013/14 1.88 1.23 0.64 50%
Luke Murphy 2013/14 1.07 0.27 0.80 27%

What is obvious, and as stark as the early morning sunrise, is the following: Lucas Castro gets himself into more shooting positions than Luke Murphy and pulls the trigger with greater accuracy. Castro’s greater ‘shots’ figures per 90 for both his seasons (2012/13 – 2.34; 2013/14 –  1.88) is much more than the shots per 90 mark of Luke Murphy from his 2013/14 Championship campaign (1.07). Also of note, Castro prefers to get into the opposition 18 yd area to take his shots at goal and this returns ‘inside vs outside’ shot ratios of 0.57 (2012/13) and 0.66 (2013/14) vs Luke Murphy’s 2013/14 ‘inside vs outside’ shot ratio of 0.25. Castro’s willingness or skill to be in shooting positions inside the area accounts for his superior shot accuracy over that returned by Luke Murphy.

So, it’s a bit of a mixed bag really if Leeds are to sign Lucas Castro. They are remarkably similar in their passing comparisons; each one possessing strengths the other lacks but Lucas Castro does show a high proportion of passes in the final third of the field. However, it is shooting that seems to set both players apart with Lucas Castro returning much more significant figures than those of  Luke Murphy.

If Leeds are going to bring a player in to address current weak areas, then Lucas Castro does certainly fit the bill.

Giuseppe ‘Warrior’ Bellusci arrives…promptly departs after 57 minutes

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There are two things you need in life to succeed as a Leeds fan: patience and optimism. There were two things Leeds needed last season to succeed as a team: goals from anyone other than McCormack; more importantly they needed to stop them going in at the other end.

Last Season (2013/14), Leeds United’s defence was, at times, simply not quite up to the job. Over the course of the season, Leeds were beaten 21 times with 8 teams scoring 3+ goals against them: including heavy defeats to Sheffield Wednesday (6-0) and to Bolton Wanderers (1-5). They only managed to keep 10 clean sheets and never for more than 2 games. Goal difference was -8 overall (-12 away) and Leeds allowed their opponent on average 13 shots per 90 minute average (14 shots per 90 minutes average). There was a marked inability to have a settled defence at Leeds United last year; only 3 players making 25+ appearances over the course of the 2013/14 season: Warnock (27 appearances), Lees (40 appearances) and Pearce (45 appearances).

Enter a new owner and a new regime; in the off-season things seem to have become more stable and transfers are being signed. Thus far, Leeds have signed 10 players and are in the market, apparently, for more. The signings so far are: Stuart Taylor (Free Agent), Marco Silvestri (Cagliari), Tommasso Bianchi (Sassuolo), Souleymane Doukara (Catania), Gaetano Berardi (Sampdoria), Jan Benedicic (AC Milan), Nicky Ajose (Peterborough), Liam Cooper (Chesterfield) and Billy Sharp (Southampton). However, it is the 10th signing that Leeds have made that is stirring much excitement amongst the Elland Road faithful; that of Giuseppe Bellusci (Catania) who has 99 appearances in Serie A over the past 5 seasons.

Giuseppe 'The Warrior' Bellusci: picture credit calciocatanianews.blogspot.com

Giuseppe ‘The Warrior’ Bellusci: picture credit calciocatanianews.blogspot.com

Bellusci, nicknamed ‘The Warrior’; probably looks the most consistent of the defensive signings linked with Leeds thus far. Throughout his 5 years in Serie A he amassed 7476 minutes (equivalent to 83 games) worth of playing time with the bulk of these coming between 2011 where he played 2706 minutes (30 games), 2081 minutes (23 games) and finally 1553 minutes (17 games). Looking at his passing and distribution he is a consistent player 2011-2014: averaging 37 passes (2011/12), 31 passes (2012/13) and 32 passes (2013/14) on a per 90 minute basis.

What makes him consistent is that his accuracy of passing over these three seasons is around 78-80%. His long ball accuracy (LBA) and final third accuracy (FTA) over the last 3 seasons is between 42-52% (LBA 52%, 52% and 42%; FTA 43%, 50%, 46%). Defensively, Bellusci looks strong and consistent: last 5 seasons of playing time only one error leading to a goal (2011/12) and only 6 errors over 5 seasons leading to shots on goal (4 of those coming in 2012/13). He was also strong in the air during 2013/14 season, winning over 66% of his aerial duels.

In the game against Watford, he performed solidly enough and can claim that Leeds were drawing when he left. Bellusci completed 28 passes against Watford with 25 general passes with 15 of these being ‘forward’ (avg length 25m) and 10 being ‘backwards’ (avg length 21m); Bellusci’s other 3 forward passes were ‘long balls’ (avg length 41m). Defensively, he made 1 successful tackle and was unsuccessful in the tackle 1 time also which gives Bellusci a starting ‘tackle ratio’ of 0.50. Bellusci also broke play up successfully 8 times with 2 blocks and 6 clearances.

With the other, confirmed signings of Silvestri (GK), Berardi (RB) and Cooper (DC) it does seem that Leeds are going some way to addressing some of the defensive frailties that led to 21 losses and 67 goals conceded during the 2013’14 season.

Could Giuseppe Bellusci be one more tumbler in the Leeds United defensive lock?

I’d say that yes, he has the passion and showed some good touches in his debut, the game against Watford, on Saturday 20th August 2014. However, getting sent off on his debut probably wasn’t uppermost in his thoughts when he donned the famous white of Leeds down at Vicarage Road. However, much must be thought of him as Leeds moved to turn the initial ‘loan to buy’ into a straight purchase for a reputed sum of £1.6 million.