In Praise of Patrick Bamford
Jack Hobbs looks at Patrick Bamford after his recent rejuvenation…
When Patrick Bamford looks back on his 2019/20 season, he may well look upon November as a pivotal month.
In the pre-match press conference for the opening game of the month — a home fixture against QPR — Marcelo Bielsa confirmed that Eddie Nketiah would be making his long-awaited first start of the season, with Bamford making way.
The Argentinian had held off on that decision for a long time. Although Nketiah had proven himself a lethal finisher, there were many aspects of Bamford’s game which Bielsa preferred.
But after a strong cameo from Nketiah against Sheffield Wednesday, coupled with Bamford missing a training session with an ankle knock, the Arsenal loanee was given the nod to start.
Instead, it transpired that Nketiah had to be taken to hospital after the final training session of the week, due to a much-speculated-about abdominal injury. He would go on to miss all but 14 minutes of football across the month.
Nketiah’s misfortune had given Bamford a second chance. This he grabbed with both hands, scoring 3 and assisting another. He also played a major part in the late winner at Luton, although it was adjudged to be an own goal by the EFL’s dubious goals committee.
During the last game of the month, the cries of ‘Eddie, Eddie, Eddie’ that had echoed around Elland Road in the previous months were not forthcoming. Instead, it was the former Middlesbrough striker’s name that was sung from the stands.
When the time came for the Nketiah to return from his injury, he was welcomed back with a roar. But the standing ovation was aimed at Bamford, who had given the Middlesbrough defence a torrid afternoon.
Much of the criticism of Patrick Bamford amongst Leeds fans had been that a striker has to do ‘more than just run a lot!’ But with the former Boro striker adding goals to his name, the rest of his game has suddenly become much more appreciated.
Of course, he’s still not one of the league’s clinical strikers: despite being second only to Aleksandar Mitrovic for non-penalty xG, the graph shows above that he’s only just above the mean for goals scored.
In November, Bamford hit the target with 58.82% of his 17 shots, compared to a ratio of 27.02% across the months earlier in the season. In fact, he only had two shots on target for the month of October, which was a particularly low point.
With a shooting record like that, Bamford’s confidence to grab the ball for the penalty against Blackburn should be commended. His celebrations on scoring the penalty showed his relief and he has played like a weight has been lifted ever since.
Some would point to his miss against Luton that hit the post as a sign that he is still the same Bamford. But the figures above speak for themselves. So does the fact that he got himself on the score-sheet in that game with an excellent finish.
Nevertheless, it is true that there is far more to his game than goals.
Link up play
As the radar above shows, Bamford is elite at passing and retaining possession. He also posts some of the best numbers for shots and touches in the box in the division.
This is due to the fact that he is key in bringing his teammates into play as Leeds build attacks. They can trust that he can receive the ball into his feet and hold off the challenges of defenders as they pour forward in support.
This is an aspect of his game that he has had to improve on after last season. With the suggestion then that he was too easily bullied, he is now making life very difficult for opposition centre backs.
The clip above is an excellent example of how Leeds use Bamford to progress up the field. Receiving the ball from Stuart Dallas in the right-wing position, Bamford shows excellent footwork, holding off Marcus Tavernier and playing a clever ball inside for Kalvin Phillips.
On this occasion, the attack had broken down by the time it made it out to the left wing. But this is a fine example of what Bamford brings to the team.
Bamford’s best performance in this aspect ironically came during his barren run. During the West Bromwich Albion win, he participated in 35 duels against Kyle Bartley and Semi Ajayi, winning 12. Considering they are two of the Championship’s strongest and best centre backs, this was no mean feat. On that particular night even those that berated him for missing a clear chance to score couldn’t fail to notice Bamford’s impact on the Leeds win.
This clip details a moment late in the second half where Leeds had been under waves of pressure from West Brom. Bamford’s excellent work in controlling the long ball allowed him shield it from Ajayi and Romaine Sawyers and give it to Harrison to break clear. Unfortunately, Harrison ran it off the edge of the pitch, but this was vital work from Bamford to take the pressure off Leeds having to constantly defend. When the ball came up to him, he needed to be able to keep it. The winning goal might have been another own goal, but the night belonged to Bamford.
Bamford is also undervalued as a technical player. This clip below, again from the West Brom game, showed his close control and ability to turn a defender. Forcing Kyle Bartley into a rash challenge, the job of marking Bamford was left to Ajayi for the rest of the game, in case Bartley picked up another booking.
It should be said at this juncture that Eddie Nketiah is a very different prospect. He tends to look to play in behind defenders. We’ve yet to see whether this might be effective over 90 minutes, but one suspects it could be a struggle considering the lack of space in behind afforded to Leeds by most of their opponents.
To claim that Bamford is simply a striker who ‘runs about a lot’ is rather a strange criticism to make of a player who seems to be following his manager’s tactical instructions to the letter. In fact, when comparing Bamford and Nketiah, Bielsa said ‘Bamford ran for the needs of the team. Nketiah ran just to try and score.’
It’s been widely written about in recent times that Leeds are on target for a record-breaking season defensively. This is not because of heroic individual performances from Leeds’ backline, but because they defend as a team all over the pitch.
Leeds top both of Wyscout’s pressing metrics: ‘passes per defensive action’, which takes an average of passes allowed before making an intentional attempt to close down the opponent and win the ball back, and ‘challenge intensity,’ which takes an average of defensive actions attempted per minute of opponent possession. The Whites allow only 6.61 passes per defensive action and make 8.9 attempts to win the ball back per minute of opponent possession.
In any pressing system, the striker is absolutely vital. It is they who lead the press. Bamford ‘running a lot’, then, is a huge part of how Leeds have managed to keep such a tight ship in terms of goals conceded.
In the clip above, Bamford was the leader of a swarm of players who stopped a potential Birmingham counter-attack, sprinting back to force Dan Crowley to turn, before sprinting forwards again to put pressure on Harlee Dean at centre back. Dean then turned the ball over to Gaetano Berardi with a sloppy pass.
This was a particularly spectacular example of the Leeds press. The high press is a vital cog in the machine of Leeds’ dominance.
As has been pointed out by many, Bamford is known as a streaky player in terms of goalscoring. As a result, we may well see him have another dry spell in front of goal. But for a club so associated with the phrase ‘side before self,’ he seems to be the perfect man to lead the line for Bielsa’s men.
You can follow Josh Hobbs on Twitter @JoshAHobbs.
If you enjoy this content and want to help us create more and better pieces, why not consider signing up to our Patreon page to get bonus material?
If you have any interest in contributing to this blog, get in touch with us @AllStatsArentWe.