Why Leeds United are still going up, despite their poor form
Marcelo Bielsa's side have won one in four and slipped to fourth at the weekend, but Will Rook explains why he thinks they are nailed on for promotion.
They have Marcelo Bielsa as manager
The season before Bielsa arrived at Elland Road, Leeds finished 13th in the Championship, 30 points off the automatic promotion spots.
Since his arrival in June 2018, the club has been transformed. They finished third last season, six points behind second-placed Sheffield United, and are fourth after nine games this time around.
Most remarkable is the fact that Bielsa has managed that significant improvement with little movement in the transfer market.
Eight of the starting XI from Leeds’ 4-2 play-off semi-final defeat to Derby last season joined the club before the 64-year-old, as did six of the starters from Saturday’s game at Charlton.
He has overseen the development of academy product Jack Clarke, who was sold to Tottenham for £10m last summer before being loaned back, despite never having played a professional game before last season.
Kalvin Phillips, meanwhile, has become one of the most effective midfielders in the Championship, having completed the second-most tackles in the division and been the subject of Premier League interest in the transfer window.
His ability to get the best out of every player has taken what was a mediocre squad of players and turned them into one of the best in the division. As this season progresses, he will undoubtedly continue to deliver results.
They are too good not to turn it around
Leeds won’t be out of the automatic promotion spots for long based on the way they are playing.
They rank first in the Championship for xG and have bettered their opponent’s total in every league game this season (experimental361).
They have also had more of the ball, taken more shots and had more shots on target than any other side in the division.
Basically, Leeds are the most creative team in the division by some distance and are dominating every match.
On saturday #lufc struggled to break down Charlton and certainly didn't create as many high value chances as usual, though there were still some. This has given rise to a theory that Leeds have high xG because of so many low value chances. This is not the case. pic.twitter.com/79awRbT1s6— All Stats Aren't We (@AllStatsArentWe) September 30, 2019
Bielsa alluded to the one-sidedness of their games after the 1-0 defeat to Charlton on Saturday, saying: “The difference between the two sides was big… Our players were better than their players.”
He was right.
Leeds had 72 per cent of the ball and 19 shots compared to Charlton’s three.
The only goal of the game came from a goalkeeping error and a freak deflection during the Addicks’ only meaningful attack of the game.
lEeDs DeSeRvEd tO LoSe pic.twitter.com/U79kv4bAye— All Stats Aren't We (@AllStatsArentWe) September 30, 2019
A similar case could be made for their 1-1 draw with Derby last week and a 1-0 defeat against Swansea last month – both of which saw Leeds concede following individual errors in stoppage time after bossing the game.
Simple logic states that being so dominant so often means they will not continue to drop points for long.
Their defence will not crumble
There is no side in England’s top four divisions with a better defensive record than Leeds, who have conceded just five league goals this season.
That is down to the lack of chances that they are giving away, rather than their opponents’ wastefulness.
Leeds have barely let their opposition have a sniff, restricting them to an average of 7.7 shots per game – the fewest in the Championship.
They have also only conceded more than three attempts on target once, in their 2-0 away win at Barnsley earlier in September.
Brighton loanee Ben White, meanwhile, has slotted in perfectly alongside club captain Liam Cooper in central defence.
The 21-year-old ranks first in the division for interceptions and has been at least as good as Pontus Jansson, who Bielsa described as the club’s best player last season before leaving for Brentford over summer.
Barring further individual errors, it is difficult to see where opportunities for the opposition to score are going to come from.