69% possession. 566 passes with 123 of those completed in the final third. 14 corners. 25 shots. 6 big chances created. 4.02 xG created with only 1.23 conceded. These are just a few of the stats from Leeds 3–3 Cardiff City.
Leeds had played some scintillating stuff in what was an example of their complete dominance over the Championship in almost every performance metric. Yet, despite having been 3–0 up, the best defence in the league inexplicably conceded 3 goals and Cardiff went back to Wales with a point.
The question is — how on earth did it happen?
In the aftermath of the game, Leeds sent Patrick Bamford — scorer of the second and third goals — to do the LUTV post-match interview. In his view, Leeds had lacked maturity, being too busy trying to get more goals when they should have closed the game out at 3–0.
On the face of it, that makes sense: 3–0 is a scoreline any Leeds fan would have been delighted with. However, considering that Cardiff had only managed less than 0.5 xG and had 0 shots on target before their first goal, it wasn’t surprising that Leeds didn’t shut down at 3–0.
Despite being a threat from free-kicks, long throws and corners, Cardiff hadn’t laid a glove on Leeds. There was an opportunity to rack up a serious scoreline and send a message to the rest of the division. Leeds looked like they could score everytime they got anywhere near the Cardiff goal.
The pivotal moment came on the stroke of the hour, as a cross came into the box and Kiko Casilla came the type of distance you’d only want him to come if he was going to catch it. Instead, he punched it: straight to Lee Tomlin who lobbed it back over his head into the net.
There’s not too much analysing to be done with this goal. It was an error from the Leeds ‘keeper but it was also a sublime piece of skill from Tomlin. This is reflected in the fact that despite it being an open goal, it was rated just 0.05 xG.
Don’t Look Back in Anger
On the face of it, this is where Leeds should have taken the sting out of the game, recycled possession and just kept Cardiff at arm’s length? So why didn’t they? That’s the question I asked before watching the game back.
In actual fact, that’s exactly what Leeds did. For at least the next 15 minutes after scoring, Cardiff barely had a kick of the ball, as Leeds passed and probed and waited for gaps.
In the map above, detailing passes made between the 60th and 82nd minutes of the game, Leeds made 155 passes to Cardiff’s 57. Of those 155 passes, 88 were aimed at the midfield and 149 were short passes. Leeds were hardly forcing the issue. At the time, it only looked like Leeds would score if there were to be any more goals in the game.
The clip above is taken from only two minutes before Cardiff’s second goal. Here, we see Leeds being extremely patient with the ball, just rotating to find the gaps and progressing up the right flank before returning it to Berardi at centre back.
As the clip ends, Berardi plays the ball into Kalvin Phillips who played a one-two with Jack Harrison, before looking to release Eddie Nketiah over the top of Sean Morrison as Cardiff had pushed up to press the ball. On this occasion, it didn’t work, but Leeds would find that to be a successful option later on.
On the subject of Eddie Nketiah, there has been talk on Twitter since the game that Leeds lost all shape after Bamford went off as Nketiah’s game does not suit Leeds’ system in the way that Bamford does.
On a second viewing of the game, that seems a harsh criticism. There have been examples in previous games where Leeds have given the ball into Nketiah’s feet and he hasn’t been able to hold onto it and link up with midfielders.
But in this game, Leeds still had total control of the ball, right until the moments of the second and third goals themselves. Hernandez and Klich kept Leeds in control, always finding space to keep the ball whilst Nketiah occupied the centre backs.
Unfortunately, it was Nketiah that gave away the free-kick that led to Cardiff’s second goal, though blame can hardly be laid on him for that: a free-kick from inside the centre-circle should have been much easier for Leeds to deal with than it turned out to be.
Leeds assumed that Cardiff would put a high ball straight into the box, but instead, they swept it out to the left wing, where Helder Costa wasn’t sure whether press or to follow the runner behind him. This meant he was far too late to get out and either stop the cross or at least make it a lot more difficult for Joe Bennett to come up with such an excellent cross.
The second issue was how easily Ben White allowed Morrison to get in front of him. The Brighton loanee is one of the obvious candidates for player of the season so far. However, his aerial ability and marking from set pieces is the key area for improvement for him.
You Can’t Win Anything with Kids…
At 82 minutes and 3–2, this was certainly the moment that Leeds should have been looking to keep hold of the ball and see the game out to its conclusion. The scoreline would not have reflected their dominance, but at least they would have taken all three points.
Cardiff’s tails were up though and they managed to win a few throw-ins and corners deep in Leeds’ half. Bielsa went to Pascal Struijik — on for only his second appearance in a Leeds shirt — to combat Cardiff slinging the ball into the box at every opportunity, the thought process surely that he is taller than Gaetano Berardi and better equipped to deal with those balls.
Unfortunately, the youngster looked out of his depth and showed this by twice challenging for the same header as White in the space of about 2 minutes.
In the 86th minute, the game should have been over. Despite Cardiff making it interesting at 3–2, Leeds pulled the same move as shown above and Kalvin Phillips released Eddie Nketiah over the top, where Morrison was forced to scythe him down and was given a straight red card.
Instead, this was the moment where Leeds were naive.
With time ticking away, Hernandez stood over the free-kick out on the left touchline. He could have played a pass inside, or back down to Stuart Dallas at left back. He chose the option to swing the ball into the box and push for another goal.
Cardiff defended the free-kick, which Mateusz Klich returned with a long distance shot, only to gathered by Cardiff goalkeeper Neil Etheridge and subsequently sent upfield.
Tomlin then pulled off his second moment of magic in the game, leaping and flicking the ball in mid-flight, in turn catching Struijik out of position and allowing Robert Glatzel to run through and score. This kind of concession has been so rare for Leeds this season that it’s the first time they’ve conceded from a one-on-one with the goalkeeper and it came in the 22nd game.
Perhaps they had gotten a little overconfident in their ability to defend players running in behind that they took unnecessary risks? Whatever the reason, Leeds will know they didn’t need to go looking for another goal at that stage in the game, with only a 1 goal lead.
Both the attacking dashboard from Stats Zone and the pass location map from WhoScored show a worrying lack of activity in the midfield during that period between the second and third goals going in.
The red arrow on the left wing shows the freekick taken by Hernandez, with the blue arrow on the edge of the box being the shot from Klich. Neither of those would be opportunities one would usually want them to turn down. But considering the state of the game and the fact they’d had the game sewn up just half an hour before, they would surely no better than to be wasteful with possession.
It’s important not to get too carried away with dropping points on this occasion, as much as Leeds fans will be extremely disappointed not to have won the game. Bielsa and his staff, as well as the players themselves will have already sat down and analysed what went wrong and resolved not to make the same mistakes again.
Leeds fans might fear what happened last season and a ‘Leedsy’ narrative, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Only time will tell, but the truth is Leeds are better than they were last season and Cardiff had to greatly exceed conversion percentage and rely on magic moments from Tomlin in order to take anything from the game.
Freak events like that might seem to follow Leeds, but dominance like Saturday's will almost always lead to wins. The table will look after itself.
You can follow Josh Hobbs on Twitter @JoshAHobbs.
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