Two thirds of the season done and what do we know? Well, we’re 2nd in the table with 55 points and we’re 3 points ahead of the side in third despite having just lost to a side, Wigan, who we battered in all respects apart from the score!
This time last season we were 2nd in the table with 57 points, 3 points ahead of the side in third, Sheffield United having just battered eventual Champions Norwich City in everything bar the score. We all know what happened in the final 16 games last season.
And it’s not just our league position that is so reminiscent of last season; after that 1 – 3 home defeat to Norwich City in which we had 21 attempts on the Norwich goal, Marcelo Bielsa said: "We still need too many chances to score and we need to be much more clinical than we were tonight. We did not make our possession count. We have now lost the previous defensive solidity and that is down to me, not the players. I feel deeply responsible.”
Anything sound familiar? Well, here’s what Marcelo said after the game on Saturday against the Latics: “We should have scored at least one of the 15 chances that we had…if the team does everything I ask then it's my responsibility (if we lose)”
And thereby hangs a tale. Marcelo Bielsa is totally convinced that there is only one way to play the game: his way, and this season he is bravely forging on with largely the same side he had last season, a side that came up short. Many would argue that actually he has less resource than he had last season; he lost a colossus in defence in Pontus Jansson and replaced him with a silky smooth, if perhaps not powerful or aggressive enough alternative at centre-back, Ben White.
Ben White is a fine player and possesses many skills Pontus lacks but when it comes to attacking a ball in the air in either box, I’d have Pontus any time. It is perhaps no surprise therefore that Leeds have a worse conversion rate of corners into goals than any other side in the Championship while at the back we have conceded far more goals from opposition corners than most.
It’s a similar situation with the other major loss: Marcelo’s go to striker last season was Kemar Roofe and indeed it was Kemar who took centre stage in that role in pre-season; Patrick Bamford was the fill in. We lost Kemar right at the start of the season of course but we were able to secure the talent that is Eddie Nketiah.
Marcelo decided though that Eddie wasn’t as good as Bamford in doing the things Bamford does and therefore Eddie played only a supporting role despite widely being regarded as a finisher of top quality who scored goals for fun.
Patrick Bamford has never been a finisher of top quality and indeed the statistics show he has missed more decent chances than any other striker in the division this season. It is perhaps the one reason why our conversion rate of chances into goals is so low and yet, Marcelo, by his comments I’ve reported above, knows the conversion rate is crucial. And yes, Bamford is not the only player missing chances, but he’s missed the most.. by a country mile.
We are at a turning point in the season I feel. There is nothing we can do at this stage to make our defence any stronger so I fear we are destined to concede the odd goal from set pieces for the remainder of the campaign. But we’ve had this issue all season and for the first half of the campaign it didn’t hurt us, it didn’t hurt us because we were dominating possession, limiting the chances the opposition got in our box and we were putting enough of our constant flow of chances away.
Putting those chances away is now the sole factor. We’ve not been doing it since before Christmas with Bamford’s first against Millwall being the first goal credited to any Leeds player since Stuart Dallas got our 4th at St. Andrews over a month earlier; that is not good enough to get you promoted.
We are told by Marcelo that he had no preference between any of the strikers we chased in the recently closed transfer window – for Marcelo, Che Adams, Dwight Gayle, Jarrod Bowen, Andre Gray and Jean-Kevin Augustin – could all do the job he wanted them to so that should not be an issue. Big Kev now needs to be given his chance.
I can live with him being left in the stands for the Millwall and Wigan games but that has to be it: he may not know all the intricacies of how a Bielsa machine works but time is running out and what we need is a finisher.
I’m convinced Leeds will continue to create boatloads of chances, especially against bottom half teams of which there are six more to come to Elland Road this season. If Big Kev is a goal scorer, he needs to play and he’ll put some of those chances away I’m sure. Bamford needs removing to find his Mojo again, 7 more failed attempts against Wigan suggests his ear covering was still more in his mind than the goals he scored against Millwall; the man has his priorities all wrong.
Big Kev wasn’t our only recent recruit of course – we also brought in Ian Poveda, and he did make the bench against Wigan. It frustrates the hell out of me though why he languished there when our two wingers – Harrison and Costa - smashed 41 crosses in all directions but found a Leeds target just 11 times. In the face of stats like that how can you not at least try your new winger? Baffling!
Leeds are in a great position with 16 games to go, and the difference between this time last season and today is that we are still playing some fabulous football. We can still achieve promotion despite the recent wobble in our results but we will not do it if we do not change something.
We’ve missed chances too often for too long and any sane man would conclude that we will continue to do so if we don’t change something. We will win games if we do nothing, we are too good not to, but my fear is we will not win enough and on too many occasions the flaky defence will give away a soft goal that will be enough to send us to defeat.
Our strength is the chances we create, we have to find a way to score more and the only tool in our box we have to try is Big Kev.
By David Watkins