Goal Drought: Time for Leeds United to Share the Load

After 14 games of the 2019/20 season, Leeds United find themselves 3rd in the Championship with 25 points. At the same point of last season, they were 1 point better off, but significantly worse in almost every performance metric than they are this time around. However, one difference between the two seasons sticks out like a sore thumb: in the previous season, Leeds had scored 25 goals by this point, compared to just 17 this time around.

This total makes Leeds the lowest scorers in the top 6 and the second-lowest scorers in the top half of the division.

N.B — Forest have played a game less than the rest of the Top 6.

A lot of the blame has been leveled at Leeds’ goal-shy centre forward, Patrick Bamford. Bamford hasn’t scored since the 3–0 away victory over bottom of the table Stoke City at the end of August. Whilst it’s true that Bamford hasn’t scored as many as he should have (Wyscout’s xG model says he should have double his 4 goals), the blame for Leeds’ struggles in front of goal does not lie solely at the feet of the former Middlesbrough man.

Although he hasn’t scored in 2 months, Bamford is still Leeds’ top scorer in the league. This tells the story: his team-mates aren’t weighing in with goals either. At this point, given Bamford’s goal drought, it might be fair to expect that somebody would have overtaken him by now.

In fact, since Bamford’s last goal, Leeds have scored a mere 7 goals in 8 games. Eddie Nketiah has 2 of those, with ‘Own Goal’ joining him as top-scorer in that period. No other player has scored more than 1: Mateusz Klich, Ezgjan Alioski and Kalvin Phillips are the only other scorers.

Bamford has certainly missed the most presentable chances in that period of 8 games, but neither Helder Costa nor Jack Harrison have scored recently either with both missing notable opportunities: Harrison missed the target from inside the 6-yard box against Preston and Barnsley, whilst Costa would have hoped to have taken one of his two big chances at home against Brimingham and West Bromwich Albion respectively. On both occasions, the Portuguese winger found the target but found his efforts blocked — in the case of the West Brom chance, by a brilliant save from Sam Johnstone.

Harrison’s total of 1 goal is particularly disappointing considering that he has started all 14 Championship games and has the 5th highest total in the league for touches in the box. One would certainly hope for more than a single goal, especially when considering that each of the other 4 players in the top 5 of this metric have at least 5 goals.

As the bar chart above shows, although Leeds are only a goal behind Swansea and Sheffield Wednesday’s totals, they lag significantly behind West Bromwich Albion and Preston, who have scored 26 and 27 goals respectively. Both club’s top scorers have higher totals than Bamford — Daniel Johnson has 8 goals for Preston (including an enormous 6 penalties that are skewing Preston’s goalscoring numbers) while Matt Phillips has 5 for West Brom. Their 2nd highest goalscorers also have the same amount of goals or greater than Bamford (Grady Diangana (4), Tom Barkhuizen (5)) However, the amount of players supporting their top scorers is the biggest difference between Leeds and the top 2.

West Brom and Preston have 6 players each who have scored twice or more in the league. Meanwhile, Leeds have only 4. The green segment of Leeds’ pie chart is ‘Own Goal,’ joining Leeds’ left-back, Gjanni Alioski, and Pablo Hernandez, who has only played 8 games, as Leeds’ 3rd top scorer. West Brom also have an extremely impressive 13 different goal-scorers, not including own goals. Preston have 10, with no own goals. Leeds’ 8 goal-scorers looks paltry in comparison.

At the same stage last season, Leeds had only one more goal-scorer than this. But the total amount of goals was 8 higher than this season and didn’t feature a single own goal. Kemar Roofe, Tyler Roberts, Mateusz Klich, Pablo Hernandez, Ezgjan Alioski and Liam Cooper had all netted at least 3 times.

In the first 14 games of 2018/19, Leeds scored 2 or more times in 50% of their games, compared to a figure of 28.57% this time around. Crucially, Leeds had 12 goals from midfield after 14 games, where they have only 5 as it stands in the 19/20 season.

One man who was vital to the free-scoring Leeds’ of last season, was Polish international, Mateusz Klich. Resurgent under Marcelo Bielsa, he had 5 goals after 14 games, scoring 3 in the first 5 games of the season, including the first goal of Bielsa’s reign. After scoring from range away at both Derby County and Sheffield Wednesday, the famous song about his goal-scoring exploits began to ring out from terraces, ‘Klich is scoring goals…’

In 2019/20, he isn’t. He has only scored one league goal, that coming from the penalty spot. He missed an opportunity to wrap up the game for Leeds when they were 1–0 up against Derby, in a game they subsequently drew 1–1, which seemed to sum up his performance in front of goal thus far.

In the radar above — calculated to compare by percent rankings to the top 50 midfielders in the Championship with the highest minutes — we can see that Klich takes more shots than almost all other players in his position. His expected goals figure is one of the highest as well. Compared to last season, ee has greatly increased in both those metrics, so we could assume that he’s getting more opportunities from better positions in which to score. Yet, whilst he ranked as one of the top scorers from midfield in the league last season (finishing with 10), he is way down at only just above the median for the 19/20 season.

One key area which looks to have decreased in Klich’s performance is shots on target. This season, he is down from the 75th percentile to below the 60th. However, looking into the actual figure itself, the difference is not as stark. He was hitting the target 33.72% of the time in 18/19, compared to 31.03 in 19/20.

It begs the question then — why have the goals dried up for Klich? Without access to post-shot xG data (a model calculating how likely a shot is to go in based on trajectory, speed and obstructions between the striker of the ball and the goal), it is difficult to quantify this. But watching his shots back, those that have been on target have not been in testing positions to the goalkeeper.

Klich’s goals against Derby and Sheffield Wednesday in 18/19 were right in the corners and hit with power, whilst the goals v Blackburn, Stoke and Norwich all came after he arrived into the penalty box with a clear sight of goal and finished confidently.

This has not been the case so far this season, with Klich often taking shots from the edge of the box and missing, or even scuffing the ball towards the keeper. As his shot map shows, whilst he has an extremely high xG comparatively to other central midfielders and has taken 10 of his 29 shots from this season from inside the box, he has not been getting opportunities from beyond the penalty spot. This is where he scored the vast majority of his goals from last season.

Of course, this could be down to teams packing the box against Leeds and making opportunities like that much harder to come by this season or it could be to do with the fact that he no longer operates behind a number 10 who often drew defenders away in order for him to run into the space created and get on the end of a chance on goal.

There is a sense with Klich, as with Bamford, that he is a confidence player in front of goal. Once he hits a dry spell, as he did last season before scoring a brace away at Rotherham, it seems like he’ll never score again. But once he gets a goal, he’s far more confident and could hit a purple patch. Had he scored the penalty against Derby, it would have been 2 in 2 for him and things could have been very different.

Whatever the answer is to Klich’s goal-scoring woes — with the Bamford v Nketiah argument raging on — one thing is clear: Leeds’ issues in front of goal are a team-wide issue. If they are finally going to start living up to the highest expected goals in the league, they need their wingers and midfielders to come to the party.

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