In this scouting report, Jon Mackenzie looks at Leeds’ first full signing this summer to see what Joe Gelhardt has to offer…
Any fan of Leeds United should feel that sinking feeling in the pit of their stomach whenever they encounter the phrase “administration” or come across a club having to break a squad up and sell it for parts in a bid to remain solvent in the long run.
With that in mind, the potential arrival of Joe Gelhardt at Elland Road from Wigan Athletic should produce mixed emotions: here’s a highly-rated youngster who could imminently find himself starting for the Leeds United u23s and even make his way onto the bench to the seniors in due course… and yet he’s a youngster who Wigan have spent countless hours developing and given over 600 minutes in all competitions this season. Such is the nature of the modern game but we know just how much it hurts to lose a player in this way.
Putting the negatives aside, let’s look at the upside for Leeds United. Transfermarkt value the 18-year-old at £1m and his wage is estimated at around £3k p/w. You don’t need to be well-versed in the dark arts of football analysis to recognise that’s a steal.
But just how good is the Wigan youngster? Will he live up to the billing that he has been given across his career to date? And can we expect to see him playing for the seniors any time soon?
This season Gelhardt has only played 613 minutes in all competitions with 510 of those coming in the Championship. This is clearly not a large enough sample size to say anything of real certainty about the youngster so we will be relying fairly heavily on the eye test to make our final assessment of him.
Primarily a second striker, he has sat in behind the lone forward in a 4–2–3–1 for most of his appearances this season. From this position, he has scored 1 goal and made 0 assists at a rate of 0.18 goals per 90 and 0.00 assists per 90. His Open-Play xG per 90 is 0.13 so he has overperformed his xG for the season.
Of course, his sample size requires more colour from other stats to give a better sense of the youngster’s ability. Here’s Gelhardt’s dynamic radar from Twenty3:
As you can see, the role that Gelhardt has played this season has been fairly one-dimensional. He’s a very direct player: he looks to score goals or to help others create goals. His shots attempted per 90 minutes is 2.47, well above the league average of 0.7. He’s also slightly over the league average for shots assisted per 90 minutes at 0.71. Finally, he’s also attempting 9.35 dribbles per 90 minutes and completing 6.71, putting him well within the best dribblers in the league (although once again emphasising the small sample size here).
However, Gelhardt doesn’t play a large role in the wider build-up play for Wigan. His passing figures aren’t that impressive. Per 90 minutes, he averages 17.82 passes attempted of which only 11.65 are completed. Compare this to Tyler Roberts who is a broadly comparable player — 29.93 passes attempted per 90 minutes of which 22 are completed — and you soon realise why he’s more of a second striker than an attacking midfielder. That said, Gelhardt’s xA per 90 minutes of 0.19 puts him ahead of Roberts and suggests he does carry a creative threat in front of goal too.
Positively, though, Gelhardt’s pressing figures look encouraging. Comparing him to Roberts again, he’s fairly commensurable, attempting 6.18 defensive actions per 90 minutes of which 3.88 are successful. Roberts is attempting slightly fewer (5.61) at a slightly higher success rate (3.97).
As we’ve already mentioned, Gelhardt has played most of his minutes in the number 10 slot in a 4–2–3–1, dropping in just behind the striker. However, as the following Twenty3 graphic shows, the Wigan forward likes to drift into wider positions from the centre:
If we drill down a little and look at where he spends most of his time, it soon becomes apparent that he favours the right hand side. This heat map from the season shows this tendency quite well:
Gelhardt shows a clear predilection for the right which, as a left-footed player is interesting. In fact, in terms of his shooting opportunities, he seems to like cutting inside onto his stronger foot and curling the ball in from that angle. Here’s his shot map this season which corroborates this:
Yet despite this tendency to get the ball on the right-hand side, Gelhardt will often look to move into the left-hand side of the pitch to involve himself in the build-up. These two graphics show how he will happily move deeper to the left to pick up the ball and even play passes in the build-up phase there:
On the ball, he will drive out wide or come back inside. The majority of his passes head backwards or sideways but this is often because he finds himself in positions in advance of Kieffer Moore, his strike partner.
Off the ball, he likes to move into wide positions to pick up possession, with his tendency to go deep on the left.
All of this raises questions as to how he would fit into a Bielsa side. No central midfielder would be given the freedom that Gelhardt has been given this season and certainly not allowed the lack of defensive engagement. The likelihood would be that he would take up one of the wide positions, most probably the right wing slot, although he would be competing for a place behind Helder Costa, Ian Poveda and, initially at least, Jordan Stevens.
The Eye Test
Given the fact that we have a paucity of data available to us, we watched as much as we could of Gelhardt to come up with a better sense of his fit within the system at Leeds.
On the Ball
There is a tendency for analysts to compare Joe Gelhardt to Wayne Rooney for obvious reasons.They have very similar builds, both being short and stocky (some people might have them as carrying too much weight but I still think it’s more stockiness at this point), they run in a similar way and they are both very direct (or at least, the young Rooney was and Gelhardt is no different).
The directness may or may not be an issue. Gelhardt looks hungry for goals in a way that will no doubt endear him to any fan base. But how will that translate into Leeds’ own inimitable style? At times, it feels like Gelhardt is too impatient with the ball, wanting to move it on before he has adequately gained possession of the ball. This could simply be a team instruction, of course. If Paul Cook wanted him to move the ball quickly in advanced areas, that would be a natural explanation. But this would require some speculation as to his effectiveness in a high possession team.
On the ball, Gelhardt is pretty strong. We’ve already mentioned his dribbling. But he has an ability for ball retention which comes as much from his strength as his dribbling technique (think the young Rooney again). Here’s a run of play from Wigan’s game against Sheffield Wednesday; a game in which Gelhardt started:
Receiving the ball back from Kieffer Moore off a Nathan Byrne throw-in, Gelhardt is immediately pressed by Joey Pelupessy. Aware of the space on his inside, the Wigan youngster looks to move into it to maintain possession of the ball.
Pelupessy recovers well though and challenges for the ball.
But Gelhardt manages to get his body in between the ball and his opponent.
Having made space for himself, Gelhardt looks up, sees a pass through to Antonee Robinson and makes it.
Robinson ends up having a good chance on goal all thanks to Gelhardt’s strength.
Here’s another run of play which shows how Gelhardt’s dribbling is as much about spatial manipulation as ball control. The young striker came on for the last 13 minutes of the Forest game and immediately won a penalty (which was missed).
Again, this sequence begins with a throw-in from Nathan Byrne:
As soon as Gelhardt receives the ball, he plays it back to Byrne and straight away is looking for space on the wing:
Byrne cuts inside and then finds Gelhardt in space with a pass. Gelhardt has a clear sight of goal and runs into it:
With Chema closing him down and Ben Watson tracking him, Gelhardt notices space behind the left back that he can make his way into:
With only Ben Watson tracking Gelhardt now, this draws Alfa Semedo into the challenge:
The next two pictures show how Gelhardt offers the ball to Semedo before flicking it away and taking the contact to win the penalty:
You can also see this spatial manipulation coming through in Gelhardt’s only senior goal to date (against Hull but not in *that* game against Hull).
Here you can see the youngster placing himself well with a view of the ball but also a wide area to attack:
In the end, Byrne passes to Jamal Lowe which opens up a nice angle into Gelhardt:
At this point, Gelhardt has his defender where he wants him — worrying about going around him on the outside. The defender accordingly pushes off in that direction to anticipate the run:
Instead, Gelhardt Cruyff turns inside the defender, leaving him in no-man’s land:
With a sight of goal and now on his stronger left foot, Gelhardt has space in front of him to take the shot.
Areas for Improvement
It seems unfair to be overly critical of a player the majority of whose paltry minutes have come as an impact sub looking to break down a tired defence. Gelhardt has no full match appearances this season and only has two appearances of over 60 minutes.
We’ve mentioned his directness but it is also only fair to say that his positional sense is very good. Any other criticism that will come of his one-dimensionality will not be directed as this part of his game.
But as we’ve mentioned, there is a lack of patience to his game that may simply be a consequence of his role in Paul Cook’s team specifically. At times, it looks as though he is too eager to get the ball moving before he has brought it under control. He also has a fairly ambitious creativity which, although this may be what differentiates really great players, can be detrimental in a system like Bielsa’s.
As we know, Bielsa likes his creativity to come through passing rather than explosiveness on the ball. Pablo Hernandez is the heartbeat of this Leeds side and, with the system in its current guise, you would expect that Gelhardt doesn’t have the guile or range of passing to play in one of the free 8s roles that Leeds have (see also Tyler Roberts struggles in that spot). With Bamford and Roberts ahead of him in the 9 spot (and also the fact that Gelhardt plays as more of a second striker, it would seem the only place he would fit in this system would be in the wide areas.
Once again, though, these areas for improvement come with the caveat that we don’t know enough about Gelhardt to be able to say with any certainty what we should expect from him in the long term.
Bringing in a player of Joe Gelhardt’s obvious quality into the set-up at Leeds is clearly a win for the club. What is Wigan’s unfortunate loss is undoubtedly Leeds’ gain.
The question is, how will he fit in at the club right now? Although he already has senior appearances under his belt, expect him to make the majority of his appearance for Leeds — should he arrive — on the u23s team with the promise of bench spots if he impresses.
Should he do so, we would expect him to be competing with Jordan Stevens and Ian Poveda for the slot behind Helder Costa. We’ve seen how Gelhardt likes to drift wide and cut inside onto his left. Along with his strong dribbling, the wide right position in the Bielsa system would suit him down.
All the data visualisations in this article except for the two xG plots and the scatter graph come courtest of Twenty3. All data is from Wyscout.
You can follow Jon Mackenzie on Twitter @Jon_Mackenzie.
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