Could the Premier League Suit Patrick Bamford?

In this article, Josh Hobbs argues that a change of league could work well for the Leeds United striker…

If you followed Leeds United at all in 2019/20, you’ll know that Patrick Bamford had a season of unprecedented underperformance in front of goal.

In the end, he finished the season as Leeds’ top-scorer with 16. But Wyscout had his expected goals at 24.26, meaning that he scored just over 8 goals fewer than expected.

As you can see in the shot maps above — provided by Twenty3 — Bamford’s conversion rate for Leeds has been poor, to say the least.

His first season wasn’t too bad: he scored 8 non-penalty goals from 9.22 non-penalty xG. This performance is all the more impressive considering that he only played half the season due to damaging his Posterior Cruciate Ligament.

However, the shot map shows a glut of high-value chances in and around the six-yard box which went begging. In this regard, the 19/20 season is where we see an absolute deluge of shots with far too many being missed.

Up until the post-lockdown period, Bamford found himself over 10 goals behind his expected goals. After the restart, though, a good run of finishing in the final few games helped him recover ground on his leeching xG numbers.

It was this run of finishing that led me to wonder about the theory that I’m going to put to you in this piece: Patrick Bamford will finish much better in the Premier League.

My reasoning is this: the type of goals that Bamford scored in the final run of games was markedly different from a lot of shots that he took over the course of the season.

Analysing Bamford’s post-lockdown goals

Let’s begin by looking over Patrick Bamford’s goals after football returned after the Coronavirus lockdown period.

Bamford’s first goal after the break came in the opening fixture against Fulham. Running onto a cutback from Helder Costa, he opened up his body and placed the ball in the bottom corner with a left-foot first-time finish:

His second came away to Blackburn. Again, it saw him running onto the ball but this time it was a Mateusz Klich through ball which he met with a low first-time finish:

Finally, he scored a spectacular goal against Stoke, firing across Jack Butland on the half-volley after Luke Ayling played a ball over the top of the Stoke defence for him to run onto. I fully recommend watching that one in all its glory, even just to see the joy on Patrick’s face as it goes in.

The way he confidently finished all three of these chances led me to wondering: if he can finish like this, why has he had such a difficult season in front of goal?

I’ve thought for a little while that there is a technical issue in Bamford’s finishing and that having to deal with a lot of crosses into a packed box is simply not getting the best out of him. That all three of these goals came when the opposition defence was drawn out, playing more to his strengths in terms of striking the ball running onto it backed up my previous thoughts.

Bamford’s Record

If you look through Twitter after a particularly poor Bamford performance in front of goal, you’ll find many people positing the idea that Bamford has never scored goals regularly. But this isn’t true.

In fact, in 13/14, he scored 29 goals in all competitions. To make this record even more impressive, 21 of these came in half a season on loan at MK Dons, with the other 8 coming in second half of the season on loan to Derby. Bamford then followed that season with his first full season at a club, scoring 19 goals in all competitions for Middlesbrough, an output good enough to see him crowned EFL Player of the Year.

Unfortunately, Wyscout doesn’t have the available video from those seasons. However, I managed to find videos of his goals from those seasons on YouTube. His 13/14 season can be seen here and his 14/15 season is available here.

Watching those videos reinforced my view that Bamford flourishes in a situation where he can run onto the ball and place his shots. By my memory alone, I felt that many of his misses this season came from in packed penalty boxes where he was having to react quickly to crosses from a standing position.

Let’s look at one of these examples from during his time at Leeds. It occurred in the second game of the season against Nottingham Forest, who sat very deep and looked to counter — a strategy that many teams utilised against Leeds in 19/20, terrified of the speed of their attacking transitions:

Jack Harrison managed to dig out a cross, despite the close attentions of three Forest defenders.

The ball came fast towards Bamford at a low trajectory. With his feet already set, he struggled to shift his body quick enough to open up and finish with a side-footed volley. Instead, he just looped the ball straight up in the air for the goalkeeper to catch.

Of course, in this situation, Bamford could merely have got a toe on the ball and that would have been enough to glance it past the goalkeeper. For me, though, this is not the type of position that Bamford thrives in. By contrast, Eddie Nketiah, is more of a fox-in-the-box type of striker who would get any contact on the ball in order to score.

Testing the theory

In order to try and test my theory, I watched every shot Patrick Bamford has taken for Leeds in the Championship as well as his final season for Middlesbrough. I would have watched his 13/14 and 14/15 seasons as well but, as mentioned, they were unavailable. For the purpose of this exercise, penalties have been discounted.

The method for doing this was to track the ultimate outcome of the shot, the event immediately preceding the shot, as well as the body part he took the shot with:

First up, I looked at his 19/20 season:

In total, in 19/20, Bamford took 126 non-penalty shots, scoring only 7.14% of them.

51.57% of his shots came from crosses or cutbacks which was by far the biggest source of his efforts on goal. Of these efforts, only 30.76% were scored or at least tested the goalkeeper.

21.42% of his efforts came from through balls but he hit the target with a much more healthy 55.55% of those.

42.06% his shots were taken with his stronger left foot but he still had a lot of efforts with his head and his right foot.

Next, his 18/19 season:

In his first season at Leeds, Bamford took a markedly lower 33.33% of his shots from crosses or cutbacks. He scored or hit the target with 36.84% of these, which means that he finished worse from these situations in 19/20, although the sample sizes are markedly different.

21.05% of his shots came from through balls. He scored or forced the goalkeeper to make a save with half of these.

He used his left foot for 50.87% of all of his shots. As his left foot is much stronger, this could explain his goal return being a lot closer to his xG than his 19/20 season.

I would also suggest that Bamford had a smaller proportion of his efforts come from crosses or cutbacks due to the fact that oppositions defended much deeper against Leeds in their second season under Bielsa.

Finally, his last season at Middlesbrough in 17/18:

In this case, Bamford recorded 38.7% of his shots from crosses or cutbacks. A third of those were scored or hit the target, so this season finishes in between Bamford’s two Leeds seasons in terms of shot accuracy from crosses.

Surprisingly, only 16.12% came from through balls, making it Bamford’s lowest proportion of shots from through balls in any of the 3 seasons. This could be explained by the fact that Bamford didn’t play exclusively as a centre forward at Middlesbrough, unlike at Leeds.

A significant proportion of these shots will have come when he was deployed in a wide position. Funnily enough, though, this was his best season for his shot accuracy from through balls, putting up a figure of 60%. Again, this is a small sample size of only 10 shots but it’s worth noting.

In this particular season, he took 69.35% of his shots with his left foot which is by far the largest proportion of the three seasons.

It should also be noted that in this particular season he outscored his non-penalty xG with 11 non-penalty goals from 8.71 xG.

This point alone should be remembered by those that say that Bamford’s finishing has ‘always been bad’. We only need to go back two seasons to find evidence of Bamford’s finishing being better than the quality of chances he was getting.

Using the Data

In addition to watching all of the video footage of Bamford’s shooting over the course of three seasons, I was also able to use the Twenty3 Content Toolbox to help a little more.

Below are Bamford’s shot placements for all the shots he’s taken for Leeds in the Championship over the last 2 seasons:

In 18/19, there were 24 shots on target, 45.83% hit the corners and 37.5% of his shots on target were goals.

In 19/20, he hit the target 51 times. 47% of those shots were in the corners but his scoring rate dropped to 31.37%. This suggests that Bamford got a little bit unlucky with goalkeepers making difficult saves against him.

The bottom right corner was a particularly unproductive area for him. Bamford only scored twice in that area of the goal, despite 9 shots hitting the target. I would suggest that some of these were efforts that Bamford hit with his right foot from a tight angle with the goalkeeper having their near post well covered.

So, what have we learned?

At the end of this process, I’m not sure that I can say that the evidence conclusively backs up my theory about Bamford’s finishing. However, I do feel confident that he’s far better at finishing when he can run onto the ball.

It is clear that Bamford hit the target more often and matched his xG more closely — or even beat it in the case of the 17/18 season — when he wasn’t trying to finish surrounded by a packed penalty area. By my eye, he just looks so much more confident striking the ball when he’s not finishing by instinct alone.

I think it’s a given that Leeds will see a lot less of the ball in the Premier League and, for the most part, won’t come up against sides who pack the box against them. I believe this will suit Bamford.

Even if the majority of his chances still come from crosses, I think he’ll have more time and space to react and position his body to finish as happened with the Fulham goal shown earlier: Leeds broke quickly and Bamford arrived in the box with perfect timing to score. He should also get more opportunities from through balls with defences being more drawn out.

Of course, only time will tell. We don’t fully know what the plan is with the deployment of Rodrigo yet. He may well take Bamford’s starting spot at centre forward after bedding into the side. That could see Bamford’s chances limited. Either way, I don’t expect him to beat his 14 non-penalty goals from 19/20.

What I do think (and hope!) is that his goal tally will track his xG much more closely. Hopefully then, he can put the narrative of him being a bad finisher behind him.

All the data visualisations in this article come courtesy of Twenty3. All data is from Wyscout.

You can follow Josh Hobbs on Twitter @JoshAHobbs.

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