Leeds United’s shot on goal statistics in the last 3 games make for uncomfortable reading:
28 shots vs Sheffield Wednesday
36 shots vs Wigan
18 shots vs Brentford
82 shots in the last 3 games. 2 Goals.
40+ shots per goal.
Leeds United’s inefficiency in attack has finally proved costly at the costliest of times.
The above statistic covering the last 3 games, at the business end of the season has seen the pendulum swing (almost definitively) back in Sheffield United’s favour in the race for 2nd place and automatic promotion.
To say this has only been a decisive issue in the games against Sheffield Wednesday, Wigan and Brentford would be a considerable untruth.
After the defeat to QPR in the 3rd round of the FA Cup, a time when Leeds sat at the summit of the Championship, two points clear of Norwich, it was clear that the inefficiency and lack of clinical edge in front of goal was concerning Marcelo Bielsa:
“Usually I do an exercise to try and verify what would have been the final result if we were as efficient as our opponent. How many chances does the opponent need to actually score a goal? I use this to measure our offensive play. It is a valid exercise.
In spite of the fact we are top of the league we have the same level of efficiency as the teams who occupy the last five ranks (in the table).
We have the efficiency of the teams at the bottom of the table, but in spite of that we are top.
The teams just behind us, the next six or seven, they score a goal with every two or three chances they have. We need five or six chances to score.”
These remarks from Bielsa are particularly pertinent following the disastrous Easter Weekend that Leeds United have suffered. Emotions were running high at Griffin Park with Pablo Hernandez having to be consoled on the pitch at full time. In many ways it was reminiscent of the images of an inconsolable Luis Suarez at Selhurst Park, where Liverpool ‘bottled-it’ in their bid for the Premier League title.
Whilst Bielsa cuts a distant figure, his words are thoughtful, analytical and most importantly true to his beliefs of the game. It would be easy to draw attention to the first half incident where referee Keith Stroud inexplicably failed to award Leeds a penalty, but Bielsa chose to discuss what he can control – the football:
“The game today looks like many games we played this year. We had offensive actions but without efficiency. This is the summary of our season. We have many chances to score compared to the goals we actually score and if we had a normal efficiency, we would have 10 or 12 points more now. But it’s not the case.”
Questions will be asked of Bielsa as to how this problem has not been resolved, having been highlighted earlier in the season, but a coach can only do so much, even if they will publicly assume the responsibility for shortcomings in their players .
As Pep Guardiola once told his players at FC Barcelona:
“My job is to bring you up until the last third of the field, and then the last third is instinct, that’s up to you”
Bielsa himself famously said
“if football was played by robots, I would win everything”.
Training sessions under Bielsa involve considerable amounts of repetition. Attacking pattern after attacking pattern. Finish after finish. Repetition to make it instinctive when his players arrive in the attacking third of the opponent and to equip them with the tools to improvise. Through his coaching, Bielsa has frequently got the players into dangerous attacking positions combining to create chances. Indeed, our attacking football has drawn plaudits from around the world this season.
When it comes to the lack of clinical finishing and attacking inefficiency then very simply the players are fully accountable.
Example of Attacking Pattern in Bielsa Training Session:
The most telling words from Bielsa today, came at the end of his press conference:
“But if there’s something I can say for sure it’s that our team was never affected by pressure. Really never. If we want to say why we don’t have 10 points more, we just have to take a look at how many chances other teams need to score and how many chances we need to score.”
Simply put, Leeds United are considerably limited in attacking situations because of the inefficiency of the attacking players compared to Norwich and Sheffield United. In the context of his remarks post QPR in January, the players have overachieved to find themselves in this position based on the statistics. In the context of the position his team actually found themselves in, the fact this issue has dealt a fatal blow to hopes of automatic promotion is a huge disappointment.
Yes, the defending has left a lot to desire, but as Bielsa himself said post QPR this is directly a function of the inefficiency in attack:
“That means we have to be very offensive. It is an obligation for us if we want to win games. That makes it harder to defend. That is why my final conclusion is that if we don’t defend well it is hard for us to win games.”
When Leeds have taken their chances first and gone ahead in games, their record is formidable. When Leeds are profligate, wasteful and inefficient and it becomes harder to defend the results are considerably worse.
After the pain of the results of the weekend, it is difficult to look ahead but the play-offs now surely await Leeds United (best season for 15+ years).
How the season ends? Down to the players. If Leeds can restore efficiency to the attack, then the Premier League will still beckon.