Promotion, yet alone a title win, still hangs in the balance for Leeds. With the season approaching its final quarter, nothing is guaranteed, but Marco Bielsa’s transformation of Leeds United has undoubtedly been the talk of the Championship throughout 2018/19.
From his meticulous, tailored research of opposition teams, to his famous passion from the touchline, the Argentinian clearly lives for the game. This passion has clearly transferred itself into the might Whites, and the dynamic performances are reflected by some superlative stats for key players, and the team – on both sides of the whitewash.
Naturally, the measure by which a new manager is most readily compared to his predecessors is how Leeds’ points tally stands at certain flashpoints in the season. Curiously, Leeds have achieved 14 points after the first six games of the last two seasons.
Both returns were enough to see Leeds occupy a podium place, but by Christmas Day in 2017, the Whites had slipped to fifth and had accrued 39 points. Exactly one year later, Leeds spent Christmas top of the league, having jumped nine points in addition to four league places.
A lot of people would also argue that the end of January is a significant time to assess the progress a new manager has made. All too often, teams can slip after Christmas, and that is exactly what happened to Leeds last season. Slipping further to tenth, and sitting on 44 points at the end of January 2018, the promotion battle was all but lost.
This season Leeds were still top on 31 January with 57 points, and the comparative gap was even bigger than it stood at Christmas.
Home comforts and late strikes
Back on 9 February, a stoppage time equaliser rescued a point for Leeds at Middlesbrough, which had until that point been a veritable fortress. As a result of that, Leeds had netted nearly a third (31.4%) of their league goals in the final 15 minutes of play, and so it goes without saying that Leeds fans cannot leave the game early.
This has particularly been the case since the turn of the year, and most significantly – between 19 January and 13 February – four of Leeds’ five games played within that period saw Bielsa’s charges score in the final five minutes. Though these goals only served to see Leeds gain a total of three extra points, they could be vital in the context of the Championship’s tightest promotion battle in memory.
All successful promotion charges are also built on a strong home campaign, and of even greater importance is the fact that Leeds’ home form is hitting maximum efficiency at the right time. As of 20 February, the Whites have experienced just two losses in their previous eleven Championship home games.
In addition, ten of Leeds’ last eleven home league victories have also been characterised by Leeds scoring the opener. Though winning after an opening goal makes no difference to the ultimate reward of three points, boasting such an ability can only dent an opposing team’s confidence after conceding first, and give Leeds a real psychological advantage.
Stars of the show
Much of Leeds’ mastery is down to the great influence of Liam Cooper. A ‘captain marvel’ if ever there was one, Cooper leads the performance charts on Squawka, and outstrips even the free-scoring Neal Maupay of Brentford in that all-encompassing players’ table.
Combining all of the key statistics required of a top defensive captain, Cooper ranks twentieth in the league of extraordinary players, boasting the following stats as of 20 February:
• Aerial duels won: 114
• Take-on successes per game: 9
• Tackles won per game: 19
Mateusz Klich is also fourth in the Championship performance scoring charts, and if comparing him to the other central midfielders and using the criteria most relevant to his position, he just about sneaks into the top ten ahead of Leeds’ upcoming home match with Bolton:
• Passes completed: 913
• Assists created: 4
• Chances created: 26
• Through-balls per match: 1
Opinions will differ, and there is still plenty of opportunity for the complexion of the promotion race to change, even though Leeds are still favourite in the Championship Outright Index. However, it is Sheffield United, Norwich and West Brom that are the teams seen as the likeliest to ruin Leeds’ cause – so how do Bielsa’s men compare to those promotion rivals?
With Bielsa being a coach who values precision and ball retention to frustrate the opposition, it is hardly surprising to see that of the quartet likeliest to make up the top four, it is Leeds that have completed the most passes – 9,469 to be precise, though that number will undoubtedly increase against strugglers Bolton.
Outstripping Sheffield United by over 1,000 passes completed, Leeds’ ability to mix the verbose with the pragmatic is an important asset in a title race of this magnitude.
They don’t just pass the ball for the sake of it either, with Leeds creating the most chances from open play (249) than their three main rivals. While Norwich have created the most assists, Leeds also have the greatest rate of assists from chances created. Leeds have also scored the most goals from corners of the four frontrunners.
On current form, there will be plenty more for Leeds fans to boast about, but all that matters is the ultimate goal – to end fifteen years of misery in the wilderness, and the opportunity to right the sinful wrongs of the early 2000s that led Leeds there in the first place.
A passionate sports writer since 2010, Tamhas Woods is a content specialist and editor who lives for football.
Where do high-flying Leeds stand in the Championship stats?