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Leeds United miss an opportunity for chopping down the Forest

A stats-influenced commentary looking at the numbers behind the recent Leeds United vs Nottingham Forest game from Saturday 20th December 2014.

Clint Hughes/Getty Images

It isn't easy being a Leeds United fan. You have serial mismanagement over the years, fans feeling despondent over a lack of progress, owners coming in and promises being broken and that's just the recent past. Looking at the present and we have an owner classified as not being a 'fit and proper person', we are in debt up to our eyeballs and subject to a transfer embargo that isn't really an embargo at all.

Sometimes the madness of a Saturday of football is all that keeps us Leeds fans sane. It seems that that is all we have left in the maelstrom of madness at our beloved club.

Anyway, on to the Forest game from Saturday just gone (20th December 2014) and what did we learn about those who took to the field?

Marco Silvestri returns

Marco Silvestri's returns vs Nottingham Forest - 20th December 2014

Marco Silvestri had another ‘tidy’ game in the Leeds United goal, again showing the solid basis that Leeds United fans have come to love and, at times, heavily rely upon. Silvestri’s returns from today’s game are a bit of a mixed bag really and show both sides of his goalkeeping skill set. His strengths as a shot-stopper (currently saving 72.40% of on target shots) were fully evident on Saturday with 3 saves which placed him above his season metric of 2.55 saves per 90’ (p/90). By conceding 1 goal, Silvestri had a ‘saves per goal’ (SPG) return of 3, which is much higher than his season p/90 return of 1.75 SPG. What this highlights is Silvestri’s importance to Leeds when faced with shot attempts on goal; another reason why he is the Championship’s #5 ranked goalkeeper in the ‘saves’ category. What lets him down, his weakness as such, is his erratic and scattergun distribution. In this match he was only 27% accurate (2 successful throws and 7 successful kicked clearances from passes from teammates) with 24 other distributions (11 goal kicks, 4 kicks from hand and 9 kicked clearances) not reaching a Leeds United player. Mind you, with his save/shots faced ratio there will be few Leeds United supporters worrying too much about his distribution capabilities.

Defence vs Forest

Defensive unit's returns vs Nottingham Forest - 20th December 2014

As a unit, Leeds United’s defence performed well against an oft-dangerous Nottingham Forest attack which had so far managed 297 shot attempts (SA) in the 21 games before today at an average of 14 SA per game. What was cheery news for Leeds fans was the fact that Forest have only managed to convert 67 of these 297 shots into shots on target (SoTa); a rate of only 22.60% and from this percentage but had scored from 31 of these giving a conversion ratio of 46.30%. Against Fulham last week, Liam Cooper had a bit of a nightmare performance in the tackling department where he lost more tackles (4) than he won (3) but he rectified this against Forest winning the only tackle situation he was involved in. It was Sam Byram’s turn to suffer the ‘tackle jitters’ winning only 1 tackle whilst losing 3 tackles for only a 25% tackle success rate.

In other defensive ratings, Liam Cooper, Sam Byram and Stephen Warnock performed above their p/90 season averages. In the ‘interceptions’ category Cooper had 4 intercepts (vs a p/90 season return of 2.57), Warnock had 3 intercepts (vs a p/90 season return of 2.82) and Byram also had 3 intercepts (vs a p/90 return of 2.07). What this shows is that these three Leeds players were highly effective in cutting out opponent’s passes that could have led to subsequent phase of play or even shots at goal. Added to this were the higher than p/90 returns in the other major defensive category of ‘clearances’ for the same three players. Against a p/90 return of 7.34 clearances, Cooper had 11 in the Forest game, Byram had 10 clearances against a p/90 return of 5.76 and Warnock had 9 clearances against a p/90 return of 5.05. All told, along with 3 blocked shots, Leeds’ defence was more than adequate in dealing with the Nottingham Forest attacks. That’s not to say there weren’t issues, there were, but generally Leeds showed a better tendency to cope with passages of play in front of them.

Midfield unit returns

Midfield unit's  returns vs Nottingham Forest - 20th December 2014

It was a pretty mediocre display for large parts of the game; the main part of a midfielder’s stock play ‘passes’ being down in terms of p/90 season returns from all players. Across all 5 players who played in midfield in the game, they attempted only 124 passes from a team total of 341; this means they only contributed for 36% of the team’s total pass count. As a knock-on effect of this, the midfield unit created few chances (3 all game); this could be down to two main reasons. Nottingham Forest played a 3-5-2 formation which packed the midfield and starved Leeds of possession, hence their chances to pass and create chances was restricted. Also, as Leeds were being pressed by a more active Forest midfield, tackling was a more important requirement (see midfield ‘heat map’ – below).

Leeds vs Forest - midfield heat map

Nottingham Forest (playing 'up') vs Leeds United (playing 'down')

What this 'heat map' (courtesy of Squawka) demonstrates is the areas of influence that each team's starting midfield exerted. What can be seen is that the Nottingham Forest midfield were highly efficient in the Leeds United half of the field and particularly focused attacking Leeds' right flank through, largely through influential left midfielder Michail Antonio. On the Leeds portion of the map, the lack of concentrated colour indicates a lack of concerted action, although it does show that Leeds attacks were focused more to the right Forest flank.

Tommaso Bianchi was given a freer role in this game, rather than his solid anchor role at the base of the midfield diamond. Bianchi has proven to be a consistent defensive midfield player and is highly ranked in all defensive categories. For ‘tackles’ he is the #2 ranked Championship player (62 tackles), ‘interceptions’ he is the #4 ranked Championship midfielder (46), total types of ‘blocks’ (shots, crosses and passes) he is #1 ranked Championship midfielder (51) and in the ‘clearances’ category he is the #10 ranked Championship midfield player. Bianchi made 1 solitary tackle on Saturday against Forest but the plaudits in this area of midfield play rests on the young shoulders of Lewis Cook who made 6 successful tackles from 7 attempts.

Leeds Forest attacking stats

The lack of volume passing is something that continues to haunt Leeds United as, without successful passes then you have a trickle effect further down the line. Lack of passes in general leads to lack of goals as limited passes, leads to limited shooting opportunities, which limits the number of shots on target thus limiting the number of goals scored. Leeds’ five midfield players have, between them, created only 72 shot attempts over the season so far and, at 22 games, this means they are contributing only 3.30 shots attempts p/90; a low figure that needs improving.

With a lack of service from a midfield starved of possession and fighting a largely defensive battle, it was never going to be a fruitful day for the Leeds United frontline. Throughout the whole game, Leeds four deployed strikers had 6 shot attempts (SA) between them with 4 of these being on target a SoTa rate of 66.67%. Accuracy hasn’t been a problem for Leeds United’s two main strikers in Mirco Antenucci and Souleymane Doukara, what is the issue is that they are not receiving sufficient opportunities to take shots and thus score goals. Whilst their goal returns of 8 for Antenucci and 5 for Doukara seem meagre from 58 and 29 shots respectively, this conversion rate improves massively if you only consider their ‘shots on target’ returns.