Leeds United's key weaknesses and how Bristol City can exploit them
The Robins have one victory in their last 15 matches against the Yorkshire sideby James Jbcfc
After five wins in their last six Championship games, Bristol City’s attention now turns to Saturday’s glamour clash at Elland Road against Leeds United.
The Robins may not have won there since 1979, however there arguably won’t be a better time to face the Whites this season, as Marcelo Bielsa's side have won just twice in their last 11 league games.
Of course, City will have to be at their best to get anything against what is still an incredibly dangerous team. But they do possess a number weaknesses and flaws ...
One of their biggest deficiencies is defending from set pieces. Six of the last 14 goals they’ve conceded in the league have all come from corner or free-kick opportunities, and also 37.93% of the league goals they’ve conceded all season have been via set pieces – which is the second highest percentage in the division.
Now, why is this? Do teams focus more on set-pieces in preparation for games against Leeds because they know that chances from open play will be few and far between, and therefore have more success from these opportunities?
Or are Leeds so strong in open play that naturally most of the goals they concede will come from dead-ball situations?
Whatever the reason is, it’s an undeniable fact that a large number of the goals Leeds concede come from set pieces, so it seems like an obvious thing City should focus on in their preparation.
With Niclas Eliasson’s wicked delivery and additional goal threats in the middle - Filip Benkovic and Markus Henriksen have now added extra height, with the former scoring from a corner on his full debut - you shouldn’t bet against the Robins causing Leeds a few problems from dead-balls.
Now, for an obvious weakness. Kiko Casilla. The Spanish goalkeeper has had a terrible time of late between the sticks for Leeds.
Since 13 December, the Spaniard has conceded 20 times and has saved just 47.4% of the shots he’s faced, keeping zero clean sheets in the process. Also, during this period, he’s made a huge five errors leading to goals.
Surely, it’s about time he was dropped, I hear you cry.
No, it isn’t, according to Marcelo Bielsa. Speaking on Thursday, Bielsa confirmed that Casilla will be playing on Saturday – to the horror of Leeds supporters.
This should come as a boost to City, who may be instructed to shoot on sight more often than usual to test the seemingly nervy keeper.
Casilla has made a variety of errors this season. From allowing a corner to directly go in over his head, to getting beat at his near post against Forest last week, to letting the ball run underneath his foot at Griffin Park on Tuesday - allowing Said Benrahma to score a tap in.
He will most likely be feeling the pressure after a bad run of form, so it’s up to City to make Saturday as unenjoyable an experience for him as they can. Shoot from distance, pressure him when he’s on the ball and crowd the six-yard box from corners.
Not the finished product
Another problem Leeds have had this season is finishing chances. They’ve taken the most shots in the division at 522, yet three teams (including City) have scored more goals than them.
Their conversion rate % is the fifth-worst in the league and, with the not-so-clinical Patrick Bamford set to start on the weekend, City may need to ride their luck and hope Leeds’ wastefulness continues.
To highlight the poor finishing, Leeds’ xG is 59.28 (the highest in the league by some margin) yet they’ve scored just 47 times. This means that, with the quality and volume of chances they’ve created, they would be “expected” to score 12 more goals this season – based on historic data of thousands of shots from similar positions to those they’ve taken this term.
With Daniel Bentley having a super season in goal for the Robins, and the resilient Ashley Williams and Nathan Baker (who, admittedly, has a real fight on his hands to get back into the team) making loads of blocks to keep the ball out of the net in recent weeks, Leeds will arguably have to be more clinical than usual to find a way past City.
I’ve touched on it near the beginning of the piece – right now could be the best time to play Leeds United. In 2020, only Barnsley and Hull City have picked up fewer points (five), and only Sheffield Wednesday and Hull City have scored fewer goals (also five).
With the top of the division as tight as it is right now, the atmosphere inside Elland Road could be a nervy one if they come racing out of the blocks straight away.
Psychology plays a huge role in football, especially in promotion challenges, so if the players are feeling the pressure then City need to take advantage of it.
However, on Tuesday night, in what should’ve been one of the hardest games of the season for them, Leeds outplayed in-form Brentford at Griffin Park and, nine times out of 10, they would’ve travelled back to Yorkshire with three points in the bag. Perhaps they haven’t crumbled just yet.
Counter and press
As we’re all well aware by now, Leeds play a very open style of play where they look to make the pitch as big as possible, pushing their full backs very high and wide in the process.
This expansive style is one of the main reasons why they’ve created so many more chances than anyone else, however it does leave them open on the counter.
Whilst watching all of the chances they’ve conceded this calendar year, I noticed that most of them came from counter-attacking opportunities – and I’m sure Johnson is well aware of this and will set his team up accordingly.
Besides, playing on the break suits City's style of play, and it’s one of the main reasons why the team's away record has been so good in the last 18 months.
They’ve also conceded a fair few chances by getting caught in possession at the back when trying to play out and build attacks, with the opposition winning the ball high up the pitch – a bit like Jamie Paterson’s goal against Birmingham last Friday.
So, as well as maintaining a good solid structure to try and nullify Leeds’ attacking threat, you may see City spring pressing traps as well, to try and catch the shaky Casilla – as well as the back four – off guard.
James is a Bristol City fan, blogger and tactics analyst who can be found @jbcfc_ and jbcfc.home.blog/