Sharpening the axe
I'll admit it, I'll be honest from the get-go; I am not a fan of Luke Murphy. I also don't like Marmite or Bovril; over those two I actually would admit a slighter liking for Murphy to be fair. He was too lightweight in his approach, didn't pass enough for a midfield player worth £1 million and just simply didn't impose himself on games.
Sometimes, I simply like to be proved wrong.
The last two games that Luke Murphy has played, well, he's impressed me really. Against Bolton (10.01.15), his first start after a lengthy benching of 10 games, Murphy made 39 passing attempts (vs season p/90 return is 39.41 attempts) and completed 24 of these passes (vs season p/90 return of 29.49 completions) with 1 pass leading to a shot assist for a teammate. As returns to first XI action go, it wasn't a disastrous return but he wasn't pulling up any trees either.
If you go down to the woods today...
Then there was the Birmingham game (17.01.15), where trees were pulled up in a man-of-the-match performance for Luke Murphy. Improvements were evident across the board and, with this improvement, I am beginning to believe a little more in Murphy; only a little mind, it is still early doors. Passing attempts were up (53 attempts vs a p/90 return of 39.41), pass completions were up (43 successful passes vs a p/90 return of 29.49) and chances/shot attempts were up with 5 created for teammates (vs a p/90 return of 1.68). In the words of Yazz and the Plastic Population it seems "the only way is up."
vs Birmingham - the opening half, 'pulling up the trees'
To say that Luke Murphy had a good first half would be doing him a disservice; he had a great half. His statistical returns and positioning for the opening 45 minutes stand testament to this.
Luke Murphy - passing opening half
What the above graphic shows is Luke Murphy's clinically accurate passing in the opening half. Of the 30 passes he attempted, Murphy successfully completed 28 of them for a pass completion accuracy of 93%. It also shows two passes from open play that resulted in shot assists for teammates; he also had two free kicks that led to shot assists as well. Defensively, he also had 1 blocked pass and 1 pass interception to help round of a very good opening half. The point of origin of the passes (the white dot) helps to indicate where Luke Murphy was the most busy during his time on the pitch in the opening 45 and this can be seen on his 'heat map' (below - Leeds playing left to right).
The grey spots illustrate single touches of the ball and illustrate areas where he was 'cool' whereas the green areas indicate areas where he was more active. As can easily be seen, Luke Murphy was most active in the Birmingham segment of the midfield third of the field. In fact, Murphy had a total of 47.36% of his possession/touches in the central areas of the Birmingham half of the field in the first half (see possession graphic - below - 39.47% + 7.89%).
vs Birmingham - the closing half, 'laying out the wood'
Unfortunately, after such a stellar first half, Luke Murphy wasn't able to maintain such a heady performance. That's not to say that his second half performance was bad; it just didn't measure up to the excellence extolled in the opening 45 minutes.
As can be quite easily seen, Luke Murphy's passing was more errant this half with his 23 total passes attempted including 7 misplaced passes for 69.50% pass completion accuracy. However, there were other positives for Murphy in this half in that he created a shot assist from a corner, had 3 shots at goal himself (2 on target including the equalising goal), he successfully completed both tackles he was involved in and he made another pass interception. However, looking at the point of origin of his passes, it can be also seen that Luke Murphy was pushed back more into the Leeds United half as the team had to deal with increased Birmingham pressure can be seen on his 'heat map' (below - Leeds playing left to right).
In this 'heat map' from the second half, the main area of Murphy's action can be seen to have dropped back into the Leeds portion of the midfield third (27.03%) of the field where he was most active as opposed to in the Birmingham segment of the midfield third as in the first half (39.47%). In fact, his action in the Birmingham segment of the midfield third dropped from 39.47% (first half) to 16.22% (second half; he did however spend more time centrally in front of the Birmingham goal in the second half (21.62%) as opposed to the first half (7.89%). These figures can more easily be seen in the possession graphic (below)
Gathering in the timber
The improvement from the Bolton game (Luke Murphy's first action in 10 games), into the stellar first half of this game and on to the 86th minute equaliser in the second half is one encouraging aspect. It is an encouraging aspect for both Leeds United as a whole and Luke Murphy as an individual and something that he should take heart from. The change in tactical formation and subsequent system of play has benefited Leeds United immeasurably and has seen them match two in-form sides in Bolton and Birmingham, the latter of which Leeds controlled large phases of action. It was also refreshing to be proved wrong insomuch as Luke Murphy was not the abjectly useless player I have said him to be in many conversations with fellow Whites. I know that it's only early days but I hope that he continues to prove me wrong.
Graphics courtesy of Squawka.com
Additional in-text data derived from WhoScored.com