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Do the numbers suggest Helder Costa should replace Jack Harrison in Leeds’ starting line-up?

It is a popular theory among Leeds fans, do the underlying numbers back it up?

Leeds United v Stoke City - Carabao Cup Second Round Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images,

Leeds United fans have little to complain about on the pitch at the moment. Marcelo Bielsa has the side playing fantastic football and Leeds are at the top of the Championship table so there aren’t too many “hot takes” flying about from the fanbase. In fact, the stats suggest we should be much further clear at the top.

Graphic plotting Championship teams xG for and against from the always good @experimental361

The only debates of note have been: Eddie Nketiah or Patrick Bamford up front, and Jack Harrison or Helder Costa on the left wing. I feel the stronger argument based on the “eye-test” is for Helder Costa so that is the one I am going to have a look at.

All figures taken are for the matches this season, in either the Championship or the League Cup. So far this season, Jack Harrison has played 485 minutes of football, whereas Helder Costa has played 367 minutes.

DIRECT THREAT

Wingers in a Marcelo Bielsa system have to provide a direct threat to the opposition. For the purposes of this article this section will cover each players direct threat of scoring goals, including their xG (expected goals) as well as their dribbling skills.

In terms of their shooting statistics there isn’t much between the two players, the only shooting stat with a major difference is the shots on target, where Costa’s 50% is well ahead of Harrison’s 20%. Also, it should be noted that Costa’s xG is coming from fewer touches in the opposition box.

The dribbling stats also don’t show a great deal of difference between the two players. Costa is busier in terms of dribbling but Jack Harrison has a better dribbling success percentage. However, if you take the number of dribbles against their success percentage you come out with very similar numbers (Costa - 3.92288, Harrison - 3.99714).

So far, for these metrics there isn’t much to split the players, but overall for this Helder Costa gets the nod due to having more progressive runs and winning more fouls. Winning more fouls is useful, particularly as Leeds set-pieces seem to be improving now Kalvin Phillips has taken over a lot of the duties in that regard.

ASSIST THREAT

Just about the only measurement that Leeds are not towards the top end of the league for is our crossing. Showing that we put in lots of crosses but they are the least accurate of any team in the Championship, as the tweet below from the excellent @AllStatsArentWe shows.

When this is broke down by player, it makes for particularly bad reading for Jack Harrison.

For assists threat I am using the crossing accuracy for the reasons above, as well as their passing stats and xA (expected assists).

As you would expect given the tweets embedded above, Costa looks more impressive in this regard but some of the differences are stark (although at this stage of the season it is a relatively small sample size). Costa’s crossing accuracy is much better and could make a real difference for Leeds given their struggles in this area. Particularly compared with Harrison’s really poor stats for crossing accuracy.

Costa is also well ahead on xA per 90mins and he plays more through balls, this is one of the reasons why most people think he looks more dangerous based on the “eye-test”.

For this section, Helder Costa clearly gets the nod for the starting berth.

DEFENSIVE WORK

It is important for players to be able to work back from the wing for Leeds, particularly with how much Leeds full-backs push on, although it wouldn’t be the main thing to judge them on.

One of the main strengths for Harrison in the eyes of the fans has been his work rate and effort tracking back. However, the stats show that Helder Costa has a slightly higher output this season. His higher number of ball recoveries is a good sign for playing in Leeds’ side as it shows he can win the ball well and make interceptions when Leeds press the opposition.

Jack Harrison’s 75.8% for Defensive duels won is an impressive number for a winger but this, for me, is 3 for 3 in favour of Helder Costa.


Obviously, with the form Leeds are in there is an argument for not making any changes, but I really think the time has come for Helder Costa to get the start. Not that anyone is going to complain to any serious degree if Marcelo Bielsa chooses not to start the Portugal international.