It’s a game of chances but also a game of choices.

Thomas Cundell
7 min readMar 11, 2021

On Monday night (8th March) Leeds fell to a 2–0 defeat at West Ham. The first half for Leeds was poor, their xG for that first half was a very poor 0.09 compared to West Hams 2.34. However, we must take into account that part of West Ham’s high xG value here is inflated due to a penalty (0.76) and the rebound into an open net(0.83) that was subsequently scored. But still, take them away and West Ham are left with an xG of 0.76, 8 times that of Leeds’.

Leeds picked up in the second half finishing with 2.11 xG to West Ham’s 3, meaning the 2nd half xG was West Ham 0.65–2.02 Leeds. This on the whole would tell us Leeds were unlucky not to get something from the game. Which anyone watching would likely have agreed. For me though Leeds did themselves harm. From the word go Leeds looked to be rushing chances and choosing the wrong option. That option being a shot rather than playing it to a teammate in a stronger position or with the opportunity to create something better.

In this article, I’m going to highlight 4 times where Leeds players chose to shoot instead of taking what I believe were better options available.

Chance 1: Costa 4:09

The first real chance of the game fell to Costa 5 minutes in when he, Ayling, and Klich had some good interplay down the right finishing in the resulting shot from the Portuguese national.

figure 1–1

In figure 1–1 the red dashed line shows where the shot went. Costa taking the shot from this position had an xG value of only 0.07. This shows it is a low-value opportunity and you are not expected to score easily from this position. However, this to me shows his lack of confidence as well as his and Leeds’ desperation to score. By playing down the right between Costa, Klich, and Ayling they’ve done what they aimed to do initially which is isolate Roberts in space in front of goal (see figure 1–2). If Costa plays the ball into Roberts here, Roberts has a greater chance of scoring from this position. Another option for Roberts would be playing in Bamford or Raphinha, the West Ham defenders are moving towards their goal at this point so space may have opened up for one of them, but I think Roberts takes the shot here too and that is the intended outcome of this passage of play.

figure 1–2

Chance 2: Bamford 59:25

The next chance I will look at is Bamford on the hour mark. Roberts played Bamford in over the top and Bamford held the ball up to allow his teammates to get upfield in support. But instead of passing the ball on to a teammate, Bamford chose to take a shot from distance with his weaker right foot and sent it to the corner flag in true Steve Morison fashion. See figure 2–1.

figure 2–1

I believe here there are two viable and better options for Bamford to take than this shot. The first is, just like a year ago against Huddersfield, Luke Ayling coming in from deep on the edge of the 18-yard box. As you can see he has acres of space (figure 2–2), if Bamford plays the ball into Ayling here it’s likely he would have a clearer shot on goal than what Bamford had.

figure 2–2

Ayling may even take the ball to the byline here and be able to find a cut back rather than shooting. Either option would create better opportunities for Leeds to score than Bamford taking the shot on.

figure 2–3

The second option is Raphinha, in figure 2–3 you can see the dotted line that shows where Raphinha is already moving into. If Bamford plays the ball here Raphinha has the skill to get a shot off himself. However, Bamford could follow his own pass into the box (figure 2–4) and Raphinha can play it back to him. This one-two build-up play in this area is something we have seen before from Leeds with success, particularly Harrisons goal in the 5–0 victory over West Brom in December (figure 2–5).

Left figure 2–4, Right figure 2–5

Again this shows that as a team Leeds are getting into the positions asked of them, doing the movements demanded by Bielsa but the individuals with the ball are making bad decisions.

Chance 3: Rodrigo 66:14

This chance I put down to Rodrigo just coming back from injury and being rusty with regards to the style in which Leeds play and try to impose on the opposition. In figure 3–1 you can see that Rodrigo’s shot is blocked, Leeds win a corner from this so it’s not all bad for them (however nothing comes of it or I likely wouldn’t have written this piece and you wouldn’t be reading it).

figure 3–1

Harrison is making a run to the left of Rodrigo towards the byline. If Rodrigo plays in Harrison here, I see two options for Harrison, A) A dinked ball into the middle (figure 3–2). B) Taking the ball to the byline to cut it back (figure 3–3), this was done 3 minutes earlier when Alioski pulled it back for Raphinha who shot straight at Fabianski.

Left figure 3–2, Right figure 3–3

You will have noticed a pattern here, I’m picking out moments when shots were taken from very low goal-scoring chances. Leeds’ fans have said previously that Leeds do not just pull the trigger enough and should just shoot more often from distance. I feel against West Ham this was a lot of what Leeds did but, it wasn’t like when against Aston Villa who camped 9 men in 2 banks of 4 and 5 with Watkins as an outlet up front. Leeds got themselves in positions to create clearer and better opportunities, ones which usually they stay strict to creating. Again Rodrigo’s decision to shoot here was the wrong one.

Chance 4: Harrison 73:04

In the last act of wrong option theatre, we see Jack Harrison take a shot on the volley and skew it well wide (figure 4–1). When this chance was falling to Harrison I think everyone watching thought “Here we go, just like Newcastle away” except at Newcastle, Harrison took a touch and nonchalantly struck the ball across Karl Darlow and into the back of the net (figure 4–2). This time, despite having the time to take a touch, he hits it first time. Taking a touch and shooting, for me, increases his chances of scoring from here and is a viable option. I believe Harrison has the time to do this and he’s shown what he can do from an opportunity uncannily similar to this.

Left figure 4–1, Right figure 4–2

I also believe there are two better options he can attempt and execute with a first-time pass if he felt he didn’t have the time to take a touch. The first is to attempt a cross to the back post where Bamford is. Bamford has got on the wrong side of Cresswell and is peeling away from Issa Diop (figure 4–3) this would leave Bamford in a similar position to which he scored a header against Sheffield United from earlier on in the season. The second option is to cushion the ball into the space between the defenders and Rice for Rodrigo (figure 4–4). Rodrigo has shown his ability to create space with his first touch and get off a quick action(pass/shot) in previous games. This would have definitely been a more controlled and central position for the Spanish international to take a shot from than where and how Harrison took his.

Left figure 4–3, Right figure 4–4

Conclusion

Despite Leeds gaining plaudits for their second-half improvement at The London Stadium, to me, it is obvious that the players seem to be trying too hard to score at this moment, or at least they were in this game. Leeds’ play over the past two and a half years under Bielsa has always been to be gung ho but to stick to the principles of their play, create the same types of opportunities and trust in that system. I’m not saying they don’t trust in the system, I think they maybe lack a bit of belief and trust in themselves at the moment to make the right decision. Off the ball, the players are making the right movements getting in the right positions but on the ball, there seems to be a lack of clear focus and composure to make the best choice. The irony is that the more bad options they take the more a player may try to overthink the next one and then take another bad option. This can only be fixed once a player finally makes that correct choice and the confidence grows again.

All screenshots and data were acquired from WyScout.com

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Thomas Cundell

Android Engineer for Weezy. Sports Analyst hobbyist and Host of The Backroom Staff Podcast Twitter: @BKRMStaff and @THCundell