Leeds United vs Aston Villa
By Dean Gregory
Next up for Villa is a trip to Elland Road, following a narrow defeat to Leicester without Grealish or Cash available. The missing players aren’t an excuse though considering what happened the last time the two teams met. Leeds United had both their influential midfielder Kalvin Phillips and captain Liam Cooper missing against a Villa team that had won their first four games.
We all know what happened next, as Leeds ran riot in the second half at Villa Park, with even Dean Smith stating after the game, that Villa “had got away with a 3-0 defeat”.
Villa will be aiming to stay within touching distance of the European spots, but to do so they’ll need to win without their talisman. These are the games that will define the difference between realistically being in the Europe hunt or settling for mid-table.
Leeds are in spotty form at the moment, but find themselves just one point behind Villa in 10th place. They will certainly be optimistic in terms of looking to consolidate their position in the top half.
Leeds – L W L L W
Aston Villa – W L W D L
Marcelo Bielsa on Aston Villa
“This is their second year back in the Premier League and they have made corrections. That’s an advantage because corrections come from mistakes made.
“It’s impossible to come from the Championship to the Premier League and not make errors because the levels are totally different.
“I do see a certain similarity in the characteristics of the players in each position. The players they have in each position, referring to the full-backs, the centre-backs, the defensive midfielder, the box-to-box and offensive midfielders, the two wingers and the centre forward – they’re players with similar characteristics to those we have. If you see something similar I do as well.”
Dean Smith on Leeds
“I think there are an awful lot of similarities between the two teams. We got to the Premier League a year earlier than Leeds and we had our struggles last season.
“We lost a few of our key players to injuries for the season – Wesley, John McGinn and Tom Heaton. We had our struggles and we managed to stay up.
“Leeds have hit the ground running and found that it’s a real tough league and you can be inconsistent. They’ve done fantastically well and there are similarities between how both teams play.”
“He’s getting better. He won’t be ready for tomorrow but he’s getting better.
“As I said last week, there’s been an awful lot of speculation where Jack is involved. People speculated how long he’s going to be out for – I’m not sure how they can do that when I don’t know, the doctor doesn’t know and Jack doesn’t know.
“I was very vague last week because it’s a bit of a strange injury. Jack could be back to play against Sheffield United next Wednesday or Wolves next week. We’ll be led by Jack on that.”
Leeds typically set up in a 4-1-4-1 with Patrick Bamford up front, Raphinha, Rodrigo, Mateusz Klich and Jack Harrison behind him, Kalvin Phillips in defensive midfield and a back four of Luke Ayling, Robin Koch, Liam Cooper and Ezgjan Alioski.
They average 57.0% possession with a pass success of 81.8%, stats which show how dedicated and aggressive they are at winning the ball and keeping it. When in possession they move the ball around fast, usually opting to pass it short, and when out of possession they press with the dogged tenacity of rabid wolves. This has proven effective and sees them giving some of the league’s top teams real headaches.
However the trade-off is that when this play style does not work, it backfires hard. Marcelo Bielsa has proven to be a quality coach at bringing out the best in the players he has and getting his ideas across, but he has also been accused of not having a plan B; against Manchester United, for example, the tactics did not change at all despite them conceding two goals in the opening two minutes.
This absolute devotion to his principles has been heavily praised for being exciting and fun to watch, but it is also proving to be an effective way of compensating for the squad’s overall lower quality. In other systems most of their players found themselves struggling in the Championship, but in this system they seem to thrive.
They have scored 43 goals from an xG of 41.14, showing they are capable of creating a high number of chances and have the quality to make use of them. They have an extremely direct and aggressive ideology that sees them push high and take lots of shots whenever they can; 34 of their goals have come from open play, from 281 shots total.
This all out attacking style has seen them concede 43 goals as well, from 46.84 xGA. They concede heavily and they allow the opposition to shoot very often. Seven of these goals have been penalties also, which shows they are capable of panicking in defense when put under pressure.
Leeds have had a good campaign so far on balance, finding themselves nowhere near a relegation scrap despite both teams they were promoted with looking sure to go down. There are plenty of ways they can improve going forward, but a good end to the season would be a huge help in that respect.
They actually have the potential to finish above Villa.
One to Watch
Patrick Bamford’s 13 goals and five assists are the most goal contributions in the team by some margin, showing how important he is to the team’s style. He takes 3.3 shots per game and has a personal xG of 13.01, showing he is remarkably consistent with his chances.
He is the focal point of the team’s attacking impetus; shooting and scoring is more or less his only role in the team. Cutting the supply line to him goes a long way to dulling Leeds’ attack.
Leeds 1-2 Aston Villa – 23-12-2000
Gareth Southgate and George Boateng scored to secure the three points in Villa’s last Premier League victory at Elland Road.
Aston Villa 0-3 Leeds – 23-10-2020
A night to forget for Villans. Villa had won all four of the opening games and had a chance of equalling their five game winning streak in the Premier League, and looked good value to do so. However, the gameplan was all wrong and they played right into Leeds’ hands. Bamford’s second half hat-trick was a humbling moment for Villa, and lessons will hopefully have been learned by Smith.
How it could play out
So far this season, Villa they have had problems with teams that press aggressively. No team presses more relentlessly than Leeds, to the point where it seems almost like their only plan.
A midfield that has looked miles of the pace in recent games will simply not cope with this, and something will have to change whether it be a tactical shift or a personnel one. Ross Barkley, for all his undoubted quality going forward when he’s on form, does not look to be at full fitness and even if he were, he historically has not been the sort of player who aids his teams in defense.
Leeds seem to have boundless energy as a squad, and Villa will need to find a way to match it. A personnel change seems to be the obvious way to go, with Morgan Sanson showing he has a similar tenacity and energy in his brief cameos so far. Perhaps now is the time for him to get a start.
Leeds struggle most against sides that have counter-attacking quality, who can exploit the massive amounts of space they leave in behind over and over again. Villa have been a primarily counter-attacking side this season, so in theory the way Leeds play should be the ideal conditions for Villa. To do so without Grealish’s inventiveness going forward is bad enough, but with Cash’s defensive solidity, things will be tough.
Elmohammady had a difficult time up against an in-form Harvey Barnes. He has always been a reliable performer for Villa however, and he dealt with him much more effectively in the second half of that game, so hopefully his problems were more to do with a lack of playing time than a decline in ability. The sort of day Elmo has will be vital to whether Villa does well or not.
While they looked lost at first, Villa coped much better in that second half against Leicester without Grealish around, showing that they are capable of performing with their captain despite the lazy assumption that they are a one-man team. His absence is keenly felt, but at times the way they moved the ball, in particular for the goal, showed there is quality all throughout the team at the moment.
Show that quality, and they will be just fine.
Leeds 2-2 Aston Villa
This game could go either way. If Smith gets the plan just right, Villa’s quality going forward will be too much for Leeds to handle. However if he gets it wrong, this will be a tough one to watch. Goals aplenty can be expected, but it is anyone’s guess who they will be for.