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Creating Chances: Utilizing the Flanks

Teams generate offence from a litany of different areas, but Leeds United uniquely is very dependent on its wide players for pushing the team up the pitch. Players like Mowatt, Cook, Warnock, and Byram lead the way in chances created for the Whites. Jon Sigal takes a look at this trend below.

Alex Mowatt leads the way for Leeds with 25 chances created.
Alex Mowatt leads the way for Leeds with 25 chances created.
Clint Hughes/Getty Images

Tactics are one of the most intriguing aspects of modern football. Managers endlessly drill and train their players, all with the hope that the garnered discipline can be replicated on the pitch. Defensively tactics aren’t all that innovative or ground-breaking, as teams tend to mark zonally, pass on runners, apply a high or deep line, and try to block passing lanes. However, when it comes to the offensive side of things the game gets incredibly more complex and intricate.

Teams can lean towards for what seems like an endless list of options in attack. They can try their best to master Barcelona’s now famed possession game of tiki-taka. A squad can lean towards traditional route-one soccer in which they heave the ball up to a brawny number 9 and pray fortuitous knockdowns. They can even try to sit deep and then counter into the space vacated by the outside backs and midfielders who committed upfield.

No matter what strategy is imposed, the end goal is creating chances and getting shots on target. After all, the objective of football, as rudimentary as it sounds, is to score more than your opponent. To get in these advantageous positions though it often requires a great deal of creativity and an ability to turn probing advances into legitimate opportunities.

There is no way better way to measure these endeavors than a team’s ability to generate chances. These occasions usually transpire when the 11 men on the pitch get in a dangerous position in front of goal and find space to get a shot on target.

From where all of these chances arise is the most intriguing aspect though. If it is the strikers leading the team in chances created, odds are there is not much of a supporting cast behind the front runners. If the central midfielders are manning the charge up field, the team is most likely dependent on their creativity and ability to work the ball through tight spaces. The last avenue is normally wide play, meaning outside midfielders and wing backs operate down the flanks in search of link play and crosses.

When one takes a looks at the statistics, it becomes evident that Leeds United often relies on the last of theses three categories when generating chances. In Neil Redfearn’s starting 11 the preferred wide players are Stephen Warnock at left back, Sam Byram at right back, Alex Mowatt at left centre-midfield, and Lewis Cook at right centre-midfield. These four are responsible for the majority of the chances Leeds musters in front of goal.

United's lack of an out-an-out winger has seen Mowatt and Cook play in a diamond formation but then drift out wide as much as possible.

This below goal from Mowatt earlier in the season against Birmingham reveals this tendency for wide play. The ball is worked down the right flank, crossed into the box, and then cooly slotted home from the left side of the box.

While the sublime finish above is an isolated incident, Mowatt ranks first on the Whites with 25 created chances. Behind him sits Warnock in second with 22 created chances, Cook in third with 16 created chances, and Byram in seventh with 12 created chances. Included in this statistic is assists and Mowatt and Warnock both have one to their name, while Cook and Byram have none.

An additional breakdown reveals just how important these four players are to Leeds on the offensive front. So far this season Leeds has created 183 chances and the four aforementioned wide players are responsible for 75 of them, or 41 percent of Leeds’ entire chances. Thats an astounding proportion.

While the team similarly relies on the likes of Adryan, Souleymane Doukara, and Mirco Antenucci for offensive production, the Peacocks would in all likelihood rarely produce much in the attacking third without Mowatt, Cook, Warnock, or Byram’s contributions.

When those four get into promising positions they’re not wasting their chances either and the statistics once again back this up. Mowatt and Warnock both complete an impressive 84 percent of their passes, Byram completes a sound 81 percent of his attempts, and Cook completes a respectable 79 percent of his own passes.

This means that these four players aren’t just kicking the ball out of bounds or into the waiting feet of a defender. More times than not they are finding the feet of another Leeds player and allowing the play to build up and flow.

Still, all of this should come as no surprise to any fan of Leeds. The young guns like Mowatt, Cook, and Byram are some of Leeds’ top players and the veteran Warnock is one of the most dependable players on the club’s books. All four can routinely be seen running down their respective flanks and leading the charge.

However, as the season wages on it will be interesting to see if this trend of generating chances from the flank continues. While the efforts of all four are respectable and valuable to the success of the team, it is also apparent that the club isn’t scoring enough. As of now they’ve only put the ball into the back of the net 24 times and Redfearn will desperately desire for this number to rise in the coming weeks.

The gaffer could as a result opt for a different style of build-up play, but it is clear that the four Brits discussed in this piece are admirably leading the way so far. What role they play the rest of the year will likely determine how Leeds finishes in the table. No matter where the team ends up though, it will seek to generate as many chances as possible.