An introduction of sorts
Football's a funny old game as Greavsie used to say to Saint every Saturday morning. World beaters one game, egg beaters the next. OK, maybe it's stretching it a bit to call Leeds world beaters, what I'm getting at, I suppose, is how a team can lurch from highs one game to lows the next. It does happen, a team cannot maintain a high-octane approach and sweep all before them imperiously. What I'd therefore like to do is look at Leeds' last three games as being indicative of this 'lurch' of fortune, focusing in on the performance of three men in the midfield engine room: Rodolph Austin, Luke Murphy and Lewis Cook.
Comparing the Bournemouth, Huddersfield and Brentford games - two sides of different coins
The performance of both team and players in all these games was like the difference between steak and scrag end; there might be some resemblance on the plate but one is harder to swallow than the other and it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. The two fine plates of steak, in the shape of the Bournemouth and Huddersfield games, left Leeds fans drooling at the thought of us entertaining Brentford at Elland Road., when Leeds fans left with the taste of beef scrag end in their mouths.
The plate of finest steak - Bournemouth game
The above graphic illustrates just why Austin, Murphy and Cook were effective against Bournemouth. They commanded a large portion of the Bournemouth midfield third, evidenced by the solid area of green inside the Bournemouth half of the field and stretching towards the Bournemouth box. These three midfield players (Austin, Murphy and Cook) had 168 touches between them during the Bournemouth game as Leeds adopted a more tenacious and aggressive approach, one where they took the game to Bournemouth and had them on the back foot for a lot of the game.
Passing totals: Austin - 31 passes (15 'final third' passes); Murphy - 49 (28 'final third' passes); Cook - 46 passes (20 'final third' passes): Totals: 126 passes (63 'final third' passes)
"Please Sir, can I have some more?" - another serving of fine steak
Another strong performance from the Three Amigos as, despite a drop in overall number of touches between them, they managed to command a large, central area of the Huddersfield midfield third. This area of activity showed that Leeds' midfield was cohesive and attacking-minded as they were less active in their own half as they were in the opposition's half of the field.
Passing totals: Austin - 43 passes (16 'final third' passes); Murphy - 35 (17 'final third' passes); Cook - 33 passes (17 'final third' passes): Totals: 111 passes (47 'final third' passes)
A plate of scrag end - full fat and gristle
Finally we arrive at the Brentford game from Saturday just gone, a game where some amount of tinkering was done to the formation. Alex Mowatt was dropped to the bench, his place in the starting XI taken by striker Billy Sharp. Whilst it can be argued this didn't create a seismic shift in fortune, one leading directly to Leeds' downfall and eventual 1-0 defeat, the graphic does indicate a few things that differed compared to the previous two games. What the graphic does show is that the usually active, consistent midfield of the Three Amigos was broken and less active with only spurts of unlinked areas of activity (green) surrounded by cooler areas (blue) of inactivity.
Passing totals: Austin - 41 passes (23 'final third' passes); Murphy - 36 (17 'final third' passes); Cook - 41 passes (23 'final third' passes): Totals: 118 passes (63 'final third' passes)
So, why eat scrag end when you can dine on steak?
You wouldn't out of choice, just like you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear as the adage goes. The amount of passes isn't massively a factor (15 passes difference between lowest and highest pass numbers); nor is the number of passes with a 'final third' destination (16 passes difference between lowest and highest 'final third' pass numbers). It has to be something else that accounts for the way that Leeds retreated into their own half and weren't as active and consistent in the opposition midfield zone/opponent half.
I blame the changes; the tinkering with the formation, the lack of fluency that had been built up over the impressive performances from the previous four games.