Without doubt, the Leeds United midfield can be characterised as being so devoid of a cutting edge that it’d be like a surgeon trying to open up a patient using a spatula. Simply put, the Leeds midfield, as deployed this season, are lacking that final ball; the ‘killer ball‘ played beyond and through defences. However, it’s not all ‘doom and gloom’; what we have this season is much, much better than what we had last season. At least this season has seen an attempt to actually pass the ball; next up is surely where to pass it to.
It’s all ‘too pretty‘; it’s all too ‘tiki taka toe poke‘ – it’s simply functional and not creative. It’s a bit like chinos and a pair of deck shoes; functional and pretty but a bit ‘meh‘. Where’s the flair? Where’s the creativity? When it comes down to it, fashionably ripped jeans are a whole sight nicer to sport than chinos.
The Leeds passing game is…well the safe option; a bit like chinos for middle-aged men.
One of the first things that I wrote in advance of the Championship 2014/15 Season was a series of articles called ‘Squared Pegs into Round Holes – How Leeds United should line up next season’; it was in part 3 that I looked at the midfield in detail. Last season the ‘chino Midfield’ was lowly ranked in the passing game based on Average passes per game (AvgP): Austin 37 AvgP (79th ranked), Tonge 34.1 AvgP (115th ranked), Mowatt 31.4 AvgP (143rd ranked) and Murphy 30.1 AvgP (154th ranked); rankings are from WhoScored. Allied to those rankings is the actual passing accuracy of each player: Austin 77.6%, Tonge 83.8%, Mowatt 79.6% and Murphy 72.1%. It was obvious that, in order for the Leeds midfield to improve, it had to up the volume of passing in general.
That has happened, well the increase in volume of passes has, and that should be recognised. This year, after 6 games, Leeds have 2 midfield players in the top 40 with regards to AvgP in Tommaso Bianchi (10th ranked 60.6 passes with 83.6% accuracy) and Rodolph Austin (34th ranked 52 passes with 83.5% accuracy); both sets of figures showing an increase in both output and accuracy. Yet, as Shakespeare said,
“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”
The ‘rot’ in the state of Leeds is simply that, whilst they are pulling on more fashionable lower attire than beige chinos, Leeds’ midfield aren’t wearing them with ‘swagger‘. This can be evidenced by the fact that in 6 games thus far this season, NOT one Leeds United player has attempted a through ball behind and beyond the opponent’s defensive line. Not one. An interesting observation can be drawn by looking at each players’ individual passing contribution during the first half of the Birmingham game (13.09.2014).
Leeds United – midfield players’ passing first 45 minutes (vs. Birmingham – graphics from Squawka)
45 minutes – both teams’ passing statistics
Birmingham (left – attacking up); Leeds (right – attacking down)
Sloth – 45 minutes passing
Mowatt – 45 minutes passing
Bianchi – 45 minutes passing
Cook – 45 minutes passing
What is obvious from the graphics is that, whilst the passing is accurate between all Leeds midfield players in their ‘midfield third’, the majority of such passes are lateral passes to players in the ‘build up’. What also stands out and throbs like a blind cobbler’s thumb is the lack of hardly ANY Leeds midfield balls being played in and around the Birmingham area; there are some but very few. No passes are played into the Birmingham area from the final third of the field by any Leeds midfield player and only ONE pass, from Tommaso Bianchi, resulted in a shooting chance yet this ball was more accurate than incisive (see above graphic, yellow arrow).
As I said at the head of this article, it’s all about incision; it’s all about creativity. It’s less about Primark beige chinos and more about your Ettiene Ozeki torn jeans with rhinestones. It’s about flair rather than the negativity, yet attractiveness, of neat triangles of tiki taka toe pokery passing. Something needs to be added to the increased volume and accuracy of passing – could the reputedly mercurial talents of Brazilian wonderkind Adryan be the answer?