Player Review: Costa’s fine grind

Thomas Cundell
6 min readApr 11, 2021
https://twitter.com/LUFCDATA/status/1380988392041807874/photo/1

In Leeds’ 2–1 win over Man City, Stuart Dallas was rightfully awarded Man of the Match by BT Co-Commentator Lucy Ward. Not only did he open the scoring but he scored the late winner to send 10 man Leeds back to Elland Road with all 3 points. Prior to the winning goal, she had selected Kalvin Phillips, which was more than a fair choice given his defensive work and some of the pressure easing passes he played to try get Leeds on the counter against a City team who were all bar Ederson camped in Leeds’ half. The next notable performance in many fans’ eyes was that of Diego Llorente. The Spanish center-half finished the game with the most blocks(5) and joint most clearances(5) and interceptions(3). There is no doubt that this was probably the Spaniards best defensive performance in a Leeds shirt and it’s great from a fan's point of view to see him fit and getting a good run of games. However, a player whose performance has seemingly gone under the radar is that of Helder Costa.

The Portugeuse (or Angolan) winger put in a fantastic performance up against his compatriot João Cancelo. Of the 8 defensive duels (WyScouts term for tackles) that Costa was involved in, 4 of them were against Cancelo and he won 2 of those 4. Costa engaged in total 27 duels (aerial, offensive and defensive) according to WyScout of which he was successful in 8. Half of which came against Cancelo. According to LUFCDATA, those 4 defensive duels were the joint-most throughout the game. So despite him only winning 50% he was still effective defensively for a player who is more known for his attacking game.

Something which I noticed was Costa’s ability on Saturday to not make a silly foul which was also impressive given his ability to make a tactical foul. Costa gave away 3 free kicks during the 90 minutes and has recently come under scrutiny for giving them away in needless situations and dangerous positions. 2 of the 3 fouls he was punished for I would say were tactical. Both managed to stop a City counter attack at around the halfway line. Leeds on Saturday seemed comfortable giving away free kicks in this position and I felt they had decided that Man City were a team they could deal with at set pieces. The first foul came when Costa lost the ball trying to play a ball into Raphinha, he followed his error and then stopped Fernandinho from driving forward into a valley of green space(fig 1.1 and 1.2).

Left fig 1.1 and right fig 1.2

The second came with Leeds scrambling back in the 80th minute and when Silva receives the ball Costa brings him down to break up the attack and give Leeds more time to get back (fig 1.3 and 1.4). The other foul that Costa was penalised was a very dubious one, in my opinion, Costa wins the ball in his own half and tries to get upfield. There is a coming together with him and Cancelo, on another day this foul goes Leeds’ way but that was the rub of the green on Saturday.

Left fig 1.3 and Right fig 1.4

The two wheels below show how Costa’s numbers against Man City compare to his season average. The first wheel (fig 2.1) shows that his completion/success percentages from the weekend are below his season averages which would have you assume he performed below his usual output. However, when we take a look at the second wheel (fig 2.2) we see that he engaged in much more actions than he usually does. On average Costa is involved in 14 duels (offensive, defensive or aerial) and wins on average 5.64. At the Etihad on Saturday, he was involved in 27 and won 8. So this alone tells us how much extra effort we saw from Costa. It’s also worth noting passing numbers were up and around his average and given Leeds didn’t have anywhere near the same amount of ball as usual that is impressive in itself.

Left Figure 2.1 and right Figure 2.2

What was also really impressive with his performance was his ball recoveries. Costa’s average recoveries p90 stand at 1.63 prior to the game on Saturday and against the league leaders he made more than double his average with four ball recoveries. These were important for Leeds in a game where they didn’t have much of the ball so being able to get to a loose ball first was vital. Two of the recoveries were key in that they directly led to Leeds’ two goals.

The first of these important recoveries came from a long ball by Cooper with Costa battling Cancelo, the ball goes over both of them and becomes free when it ricochets off the City right-back (fig 3.1) and into the area. Costa manages to recover the ball with an outstretched leg beating Stones (fig 3.2) to the ball and knocks the ball to Bamford who then finds Dallas to score the opening goal of the game.

Left figure 3.1 and right figure 3.2

The second comes from a clearance where he recovers the ball on the halfway line in the 91st minute, when he gets to the ball the two nearest City players have gone to put Costa under pressure to try and force an error with him being so close to the touchline (fig 4.1). But Costa’s first touch is brilliant and gives him time to hold the ball up and flick it inside to Alioski taking out the 2 defenders applying pressure (fig 4.2). This leaves Alioski with enough time to calmly choose the correct pass for Dallas through the middle before he puts it through Edersons legs to give Leeds all 3 points.

Left fig 4.1 and Right fig 4.2

This performance could be Helder Costa's best to date for Leeds. It could be down to the fact Leeds were forced to play in a way he may have got used to playing at Wolves with a low block looking for the counter attack. The two second assists were important as well and showed what he can do, they may not have been fancy but one was from his determination and the other was from his ability to hold the ball and time the pass to beat a press. All promising signs. This performance should breed lots of confidence into Costa for the rest of the season, a confidence that has slowly been brewing when he’s been called upon in recent weeks. A lot of people have been saying it’s time for him to leave in the summer. But on this performance, he’s more than proven he’s a good player to have in and around the squad.

Images and data acquired from WyScout unless otherwise stated.

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Thomas Cundell

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