Eddie Nketiah and the Art of Finding Space

In this piece, Josh Hobbs looks at what it is that makes Eddie Nketiah such a dangerous striker

‘Eddie, Eddie, Eddie…’

For the best part of 70 minutes against Barnsley, Patrick Bamford played very well; taking 5 shots and having a goal disallowed for an offside call against Helder Costa. However, if I had to guess, I’d say he went to bed on Sunday night with that song in his head.

Unfortunately for Bamford, whilst he forced Bradley Collins into 3 saves, he was unable to find a way past him, unlike Eddie Nketiah who scored at the first time of asking, as seems to be the way with the Arsenal loanee.

The remarkable thing about Nketiah’s goals for Leeds so far is that, aside from his goal against Stoke in the Carabao Cup where he profited from a horrendous error from Jack Butland, all of his goals have been scored with first touch finishes in and around the six-yard box.

Having only played 95 minutes in total in the Championship, Nketiah’s xG total of 1.71, from a total of just 5 shots, is extremely high and further shows the quality of the chances he’s getting.

Viewing each of his goals individually, it would be easy to jump to the conclusion that he has profited from terrible marking. However, when one sees he’s scored such a similar goal 3 times for Leeds already (as well as another just like it for England U21), it suggests there’s another reason Nketiah seems to find himself in such space to score.

Above we see Nketiah’s first two goals for Leeds, coming in his full debut in the Carabao Cup and in his Championship debut. It’s almost impossible to fail to notice that, whilst the initial pass for these goals start in a different position on the pitch, these two goals are almost identical.

In both instances, Nketiah anticipates what Costa is going to do before anybody else, running into the six-yard box on the blind side of the centre backs to tap into an empty net.

In each of the clips, it’s noticeable that one of the defenders glances towards the Leeds striker but they’re unsure whether to go towards the ball or to follow his run. They both make the wrong choice.

His opening goal for England U21 against Turkey was once again almost identical to the above goals. Nketiah made almost the exact same run and once again got the inevitable tap-in. On this occasion, he got lucky: the defender missed the ball as it came in. Once again, though, it proved that, if he keeps on making that run, he will keep on getting chances to score.

On every occasion detailed above, Nketiah is thinking steps ahead of his opponents. When he made his debut at Elland Road against Brentford, his mentor, Arsenal legend Ian Wright, was in the stands, joining in with the cries of ‘Eddie, Eddie, Eddie’ as his young protege struck the winner.

Wright was once asked in ‘Four Four Two’ magazine about how to get free in the penalty area and he responded, ‘Timing runs is the best way to get the better of a defender. Start making your move just as the person passing to you receives the ball. I’d always run just as Dennis Bergkamp was looking down to control the ball.’ It’s clear to see that Eddie has paid attention to this advice from Wright and Leeds are currently reaping the rewards.

In the case of the crucial opening goal against Barnsley — Nketiah was much more closely marked, it being a set piece situation. However, some very clever movement created the space he needed to finish.

Circled here, Nketiah originally takes up a position in between two Barnsley defenders.

Then, just before Kalvin Phillips takes his first step towards taking the free-kick, Nketiah moves a yard towards the goal, now hidden behind one of the two defenders within a yard of him.

Crucially, just as Kalvin comes in to strike the ball, he shifts a yard back away from the goal before making his run.

As the ball comes across, Nketiah meets it with a side-foot volley at the back post — once again with no defender anywhere near him — winning the game for Leeds.

Here it is in full so you can appreciate how quickly this all happens:

With movement like this, it’s not surprising at all that Nketiah is finding himself getting such presentable chances to score and, whilst he continues to take them, the clamour for him to start games is only going to grow.

Nketiah is not as complete a striker as Patrick Bamford. This, coupled with Bielsa’s fierce loyalty to players that have served him well, is most likely what is keeping Nketiah on the bench at the moment.

However, as Bielsa says, Nketiah is ‘involved at the end of the action’ and his involvement always seems to end with the ball in the back of the net.

You can follow Josh Hobbs on Twitter @JoshAHobbs.

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A Leeds United blog which focuses on the tactical and statistical aspects of the game