Stuffed full of turkey, 25th December 2013 was a memorable one. Leeds were on a run of good fortune and were comfortably nestled in 5th place and playing some good football. Then, a 1-1 draw against Blackpool on 26th December and a 2-1 loss to Nottingham Forest on the 29th saw Leeds begin a slide down the table; going from promotion contenders to relegation favourites in the space of half a season.
Fast forward a year, I am still stuffed with turkey but Leeds aren't on the same run of good fortune, far from it. Instead we sit uncomfortably in 18th place and playing some inconsistent football; at times brilliant and promising, at others abjectly miserable. Leeds fans are hoping that his season is going to be last season in reverse and that positive results will be the order ofthe day and the next half season will see a climb upwards towards respectability. After losing 2-0 to Wigan on Saturday, that climb needs to be more rapid and more sustained.
Table showing position on Christmas Day 2013
Here we sat pretty, in 5th place, with a positive goal difference and a points per game total (PPG) of 1.62 from the 21 games played. After that impressive start to the season, the free-fall began and boy did it show the Jekyll and Hyde nature of Leeds United. The following 25 games were reminiscent of how we have started the 2014/15 Championship campaign.
Table showing relative position of Leeds after Christmas Day 2013
Over those 25 games we fell from being the 5th best team in the Championship, to the 21st best team in little over half a season with a relegation-esque return of 0.92 PPG. The reasons for this drop in fortune can be debated until the cows turn into sheep and plod home, but when I wrote about it earlier it was all about abandoning a system that worked and adopting one that didn't. The system that worked was the 5-3-2, it worked for the players we had then and the freefall only began when we changed the system but kept the personnel; we were relegation fodder in 2013/14 until a partial re-adoption of the 5-3-2 gave us welcome points that dragged us away from the sucking mire at the foot of the table.
How to stop a team in freefall - the idiot's guide.
There is little doubt that hovering around the relegation places does little for a team's confidence or supporter's health; dropping places usually leads to increased heart rates and much anger, tempered with bouts of despondency. Even half a season in, Leeds fans know that, barring miracles all round, that it is likely another season in the Championship for 2015/16. The rot is here, it is setting and it needs changing - that much is beyond doubt.
Current Championship table to 31st December 2014
It boils down to a couple of things of actual simplicity really: 1. we don't have enough chances and 2 the system is to blame. Firstly, we don't score enough and the opposition score too much, that much isn't rocket science. We let teams dominate us and control the shot ratio, in other words they take more shots and have more opportunities to score. We, on the other hand, live on scraps at times and, thus, survive on slim pickings. That's not to say that a lack of goals equals relegation scrap; look at Sheffield Wednesday and their 18 goals but they do something simple, they have a system that stops the opposition scoring.
Comparison of Leeds' shots to opponent shots totals
What we have here is a comparison of a rolling total of shots for Leeds against a rolling total of shots that we concede. The solid coloured lines are current performance and the 'ghost line' indicates projected performance based on current trend. From the Watford game onwards (game 4), the shot totals drift apart and the gap continues to get wider. Based on current performance, Leeds would be projected to get around 520 shots by the season's end; our opponents projected to get around 725 and this would give us a total shot ratio (TSR) of 0.417, meaning that opponents would have had 16% more shooting opportunities. A bit further analysis shows that we concede a goal every 10.25 shots and score a goal ourselves every 10.80 shots; this means that we'd likely conceded a further 35 goals this season whilst scoring only a further 23 goals which leaves us with a goal difference -23; not healthy. It's far from healthy. Leeds have the league's second lowest average shots at goal per game total (10.5) and the lowest average shots on target (SoTa) per game of 3.2, so it is understandable why things don't look too rosy for us at the club. To be honest, we are lucky to be in 20th place, thankful that the teams below us are worse than we - at least for the time-being that is. Buying in a 20 goal striker is no good, where will the service come from?
This brings me to the system, the much-aligned diamond; it doesn't work with the players we have. The lack of a packed midfield allows opponents to dominate and flood the engine room so to speak. Leeds' midfield players struggle to pass with fluency, much more so away from home, and the chances dry up. The strikers, denied service have to drop back to look for the ball and are less effective, it is simply a mess. If you feed a man the diet of a pauper, you can't expect him to get fat and this rings true with Leeds in front of goal.
I am not going to stoop to the level of the 'Social Media Massive' and demand system this, formation that or point out players I think are underperforming. I will simply say that the players we have aren't bad, not at all, but the system we are playing doesn't highlight what strengths that they have. A flower used to sunlight struggles to grow in the shade just as a player used to one role may struggle in another that isn't well-suited to their skill-set and that is what we have at Leeds United.
So, my one plea would ideally be this: please Leeds United, change the system and start to play the ball more to the strikers. Shots on goal are a start, we need to make other teams defend because, at the moment, we are giving the opposition an easy time of things as they know the rigidity of our set-up and how it dictates the style we play. Our next three opponents, the three Bs of Bolton, Birmingham and Bournemouth, are teams we've taken 7 of 9 available points from earlier in the season in a similar three game streak. At the moment, unless things drastically change, it will be an uncomfortable three game stretch that could see us slip closer to, even in to, the relegation zone. This is especially so considering Bournemouth are flying high at the head of the table and scoring goals for fun of late.
Mind, it's never been easy being a Leeds fan. Here's hoping that 2015 is kinder to us.