Parking Ford Cortinas next to Ferraris – is it an instant upgrade? Graham Smeaton August 25, 2014 Leeds United 13 Comments Reflecting on past memories is always dangerous; what was once bad tends to take on the soft, golden glow of reminiscence. The further back that you go, the more golden the glow. For example, the summers of our youth seemed to be the hottest of days, there was never any rain in the six week holidays of our childhood and there was always snow every winter that was much better than the snow nowadays. Ah, those halcyon days of years gone by, all those memories. Some more recent memories though are much harder to taint with positivity; memories such as the ineffectiveness of Leeds United’s midfield last season (the 2013/14 Championship campaign) and how this has been represented under the new regime taking shape up in the LS11 area. It all started so well for Leeds fans, sat there opening their Christmas presents on 25th December 2013 with their team nestled in 6th place on the back of an encouraging run of results. By the season’s end, this had all fizzled away – a season that had promised so much ended up delivering so very little. GFH were the owners, the team had gone into a destructive free fall only halted when Brian McDermott steered Leeds to safety, it can be argued, by readopting the 5-3-2 formation that had driven Leeds to the promised land of the playoffs come Christmas Day. Looking back at the embers of last season and picking through the charred remains, two things stand out like a blind cobbler’s thumb: defensively we haemorrhaged goals and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory with inept performances and, apart from the defensive duties of Rodolph Austin, Leeds United’s 2013/14 midfield was, well, pretty mediocre. Player Name Appearances (Sub) Accurate crosses per game (rank*) Key passes per Game/Season (rank*) Average Passes per game (rank*) Rodolph Austin 40 0.6 (90th) 1/39 (110th) 37 (77th) Luke Murphy 37 0.9 (43rd) 1/37 (54th) 30.6 (151st) Alex Mowatt 24 (5) 1.7 (13th) 1/30 (99th) 31.4 (141st) Michael Tonge 16 (7) 0.5 (99th) 0.7/16 (186th) 34 (113th) Rank* – ranked in Championship amongst all players in that category Source WhoScored.com Figures such as these only tell a partial tale when isolated from others that are of importance. When looking at the ‘stock trade’ of a midfield player you expect that passing features highly as they are the distributive link between defence and attack; between stopping goals and providing them. In both ‘Key Passes per Game/Season’ (passes leading to a shooting opportunity) and ‘Average Passes per Game’ not one Leeds United midfield player manages to break into the top 50 players in the Championship division. An indication of how far away Leeds’ midfield players were can be seen when comparing them to the 6 top passing midfield players in the division during the 2013/14 season. Player name Appearances + Sub Team Average Passes per Game (rank*) Daniel Drinkwater 43+2 Leicester 66.4 (1st) Joey Barton 33+1 Queens Park Rangers 65.4 (2nd) Tom Carroll 23+3 Queens Park Rangers 57 (3rd) Adam Clayton 41+1 Huddersfield 55.6 (4th) Richie Wellens 36+1 Doncaster 53.3 (7th) Keith Andrews 28+3 Brighton 52.2 (9th) Source WhoScored.com Whilst ‘Average Passes per Game’ is only one aspect of a midfield player’s game, it does give you a flavour of the type of game that Leeds United played during the 2013/2014 season. Put bluntly, the output from the Leeds United midfield, last season, was mediocre in how it compared to the most productive passing midfielders in the league. Another indication of the perceived lack of creativity and attacking nous in the Leeds midfield can be borne out by looking at the number of through balls that the main 4 midfield players at Leeds (Austin/Murphy/Mowatt/Tonge) played last season; the total standing at 8 – yes EIGHT. That was last season, how are things reflected in the Leeds midfield this season? Come the new season and many changes are in place/underway at Elland Road; these ‘changes’ being reflected in the areas of player recruitment (12 thus far), a new ‘coaching regime’ under a ‘head coach’ David Hockaday and the proclamation of a new ‘passing-based’ game. My worry with such a bold proclamation would be as follows; based on last year’s mediocrity in the middle of the park – where’s the increased output going to come from? Table of Midfielders’ contributions – First 4 games of season Fwd Bwd Success % Avg P p/g* (rank) Chances (Assists) Rodolph Austin 177 69 83 62.8 (9th) 0 (0) Michael Tonge 88 74 86 41.8 (81st) 0 (0) Luke Murphy 78 63 73 36.5 (108th) 6 (0) Tommaso Bianchi 89 60 82 51.3 (35th) 1 (0) Avg P p/g – average passes per game (total) ‘Chances’ – pass leading to a shot: ‘Assist’ – pass leading to a goal ‘rank’ – position amongst current Championship players Source Squawka.com and WhoScored.com What does the table show us about the current Leeds United midfield four? Well, firstly it indicates that the new ‘pass first’ mentality has improved Leeds’ overall passing numbers from the 2013/14 season both with returns from individual players and as a team (2013/14 292 short passes per game – ranked 20th in league vs 2014/15 366 passes – ranked 8th in league); also reflected in this improvement is an increased pass accuracy rating, predominantly for the midfield four. This has left the Leeds midfield players more highly ranked amongst their peers than they were last season. There are worries, however, such as the fact that very few passes are leading to actual chances which more than hints at the worrying lack of shots at goal that Leeds United produce as a team. With English players of quality being seen as ‘over-priced’ by many, Massimo Cellino has, with the help of Nicola Salerno, largely raided the Italian market to bring a little flair and Latin passion to the Leeds United ranks. The latter, it can be argued has worked too well what with the ‘sendings off’ of Gaetano Berardi (vs Accrington Stanley) and Giuseppe Bellusci (vs Watford), both on their full debuts for the club. With Alex Mowatt currently injured and unavailable for the first 4 games of the 2014/15 Championship season, new recruit Tommaso Bianchi (signed from Sassuolo) has filled his place in midfield. What I’m interested in is whether the declaration from Coach Hockaday that Leeds will play a ‘passing game’ has shown any change on the figures returned in the first 4 games of the 2014/15 Championship season when compared to the output of the previous season. I have mentioned previously in this piece that there have been changes in the overall effectiveness of Leeds as a ‘passing team’ but that there are other worries such as the lack of creativity and chances/shots at goal. Coupled with the above, improved figures, you then have the potential of what I call ‘the intangibles'; those players you cannot rate as they haven’t played at all/enough. In the midfield area you have: Lewis Cook, Zan Benedicic, Casper Sloth and Brazilian starlet Adryan; Sloth is due to sign when personal terms are complete and Adryan is a ‘signing in the pipeline’ with more to come next week. So, it seems that the ‘ligiona stranieri’ (foreign legion) policy of signing overseas players has worked in a way; Tommaso Bianchi’s passing output is more productive than that of Luke Murphy over the opening 4 games of the Championship season and the new focus is leading to more passes per game from the midfield area. In that way, placing a Ferrari amongst the Cortinas has worked; the jury is still out on the effects of the other imports in defence (games missed due to dismissals – although Berardi will be the ideal replacement for the suspended Sam Byram) and attack (not enough game time.) Coming up next – Spotlighting the defence. Dr Zen Bianchi a Ferrari? He’s more a Cinquecento, no? Graham He’s an upgrade on Murphy. Maybe I was a little over-optimistic calling him a Ferrari but he’s better than a Cinquecento; my mate had one of those and it was very, very bad. Conceived-a-White On the whole McAllister and Grayson brought in much better players than Warnock & McDermott. Snoddy, Delph, Mad Max etc. McDermott is the biggest disappointment. I was really chuffed when he pitched up. A decent manager and a decent, likeable fella. But he unfortunately was not up to the task at ER. The crap he bought & brought in on loan. Murphy was a marquee signing! Wingers – Kebe & Stewart FFS! waltonsowncoxy Good interesting scratch. henrymouni The whole thing about passing is whether we are passing to get rid of the ball, or passing with the purpose of getting into the opponents final third and shooting at goal. Our shots on & off target would indicate that our passing is being done for passing sake, with no thought about progress. It is easy to pass from side to side and back to the fullbacks or goalkeeper but what is the point? Against Watford their plan was to let us have the ball (Eddie’s analysis) in our half and a bit of their’s. Their coach realised that our passing was ineffective, so they waited until we lost it so that we would be spread out and they could hit us on the break. The most effective passing strategy, is to pass around the opposition to put them on the back foot. Until we do this we are wasting our time. Graham I was trying to say that, in a fashion. Coach Hock has got us passing at least; maybe his next upgrade is passing more incisively. We do lack that ‘killer ball’ both through and beyond the defence; I agree. The shooting side also needs to improve and that needs to be linked to “passing with the purpose of getting into the opponents final third” which you rightly say is important. Still, 42 more games left to practice. henrymouni I don’t know if I can stand another 42 Graham! I have great hopes for the Sloth!! Sounds like a good lad and he’s Danish! Graham Nice car Think of 42 as being the answer in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy… henrymouni It is a nice motor, and very reliable. I am hoping Massimo will buy it!! The Kumars live at no 42! youngdigger Leeds United need time to settle… its all new, owners. players and coaching staff, line up and style of football…patience should be the order of the day not sackings…the team need time to gel and so do the management including the owner.. Leeds United have seen too many changes over the past 10 years and thats why we are in this position.. A bit of stability will be proven given time.. Graham Thing is, will Leeds fans wait? Patience is in short supply – we demand results…well in some quarters they do. I agree that we should hold fire rather than take aim. Scally Lad We have waited for years and years and years. We can wait a few years more until things get sorted. It’s not like we have a choice, anyway…. PMH Passing does not score goals, obviously, but it is a step up from not passing. You have to crawl before you can walk. Particularly for a new team, this basic element needs emphasizing. Next step is mixing in accurate medium and long forward passes, (as opposed to the mindless hoofball.) Otherwise we end up with endless passing in your own half, which is OK if you are two goals up, but otherwise is the most tedious thing you can imagine. The other way of setting up an attack is pace with the ball, but it don’t seem like we have any greyhounds.