In this week’s article, Josh Hobbs looks back over Patrick Bamford’s performance so far this season to assess how the Premier League is suiting the striker…
If you follow me on Twitter, you might have noticed me crowing every single time Patrick Bamford has scored a goal this season. Of course, I love seeing Bamford score for Leeds any time but I’m particularly enjoying it since I wrote this article before the season started.
In the piece, I outlined my reasons for why I thought Bamford’s finishing would be much more clinical in the Premier League. TL;DR I felt his shooting technique would be much more suited to scenarios where defences were more open and he wasn’t constantly having to react to crosses in packed boxes.
We’re now six games into the season following Leeds’ return to the Premier League. They sit sixth in the table, having scored 12 goals.
Bamford has half of those with only Son Heung-min (8) and Dominic Calvert-Lewin (7) scoring more than the Leeds marksman. Last season, Bamford scored only 7.14% of his shots. At this stage, he has scored 26% of his shots in 20/21.
The underlying numbers show that the third top-scorer in the league at this stage is a true representation of his performance as well: Bamford sits third in the table for non-penalty xG too:
Bamford’s non-penalty xG is 3.8 and only Sadio Mane and Dominic Calvert-Lewin ranking higher. Mane is just about tracking his xG, getting 4 goals so far this season, whilst Calvert-Lewin is over-performing his by 2.6. Bamford is just behind that, over-performing his by 2.2. As Bamford underachieved his xG in the Championship by almost 10 goals, this is quite the turnaround.
If we add the rest of the Big 5 European leagues, Kylian Mbappe, Robert Lewandowski, Romelu Lukaku and Karl Toko Ekambi of Lyon are the only players with higher non-penalty xG at this stage. It’s too early to get carried away about this but Bamford is up there with the big boys.
If Leeds continue to play as they have done and Bamford continues taking up the positions and finishing as he has, it seems he could be in for the season of his life.
As we’ve said before, finishing is actually one of the least repeatable skills in football. This is why xG is so important to judge long-term performance of a striker. Bamford had a season and a half or poor performance in front of goal but if he kept getting those chances, he was always likely to revert to the mean in terms of meeting his expected goals eventually.
With that in mind, I thought that it might be worth analysing the goals he’s scored so far this season to see whether they really do fit with the theory that I posited before the season. Is it really the case that he’s become so much more efficient in front of goal because the chance types suit him more? Or is he getting the same chances he always did and he’s now on a hot-streak?
Bamford’s first goal came in the opening match of Leeds’ season, the striker scoring the second equaliser in a thriller in which Leeds lost 4–3 at Anfield.
The goal came as Bamford profited from an error from the usually imperious Virgil Van Dijk. It was a one-on-one situation, which was one of the chance types I felt Bamford would get more of in the Premier League. However, it wasn’t one where he had plenty of time to pick his spot. He had to react quickly to make the most of Van Dijk’s error.
In fact, a few moments earlier he had one of the one-on-ones I was theorising about and he attempted to take the ball past Allison rather than shoot, losing the ball in the process. It was a relief to see him take this one after that miss!
I’m chalking this one up as a win for my theory.
Bamford was on the score sheet again the following week, scoring the goal to make it 3–1 as Leeds this time found themselves on the right side of another 4–3 thriller against Fulham.
This goal was actually the prime example of the type of goal I was hoping we’d see Bamford score this season.
Klich played a wonderful disguised through-ball as he’d spotted his centre forward drifting into space between Michael Hector and Kenny Tete. Although this was on Bamford’s weaker foot, he had the time and space to plant the ball into the corner of the net.
That’s two wins for my theory.
Bamford’s third goal came in the third game of the season as Leeds won their second consecutive game, taking the points at Brammall Lane.
In my previous piece, I noted that Bamford was having to take the vast majority of his shots from crosses, often on his right foot or with his head. These were not the kinds of shots that he flourished from, however, he still scored almost half of his goals from crosses and cutbacks.
On the face of it, this goal came from a cross, so it might not seem to fit with my theory. However, Sheffield United were not in a low-block and after Rodrigo drew defenders towards him on the edge of the box, Bamford found it quite easy to find space in between the central centre back and the left-sided centre back in order to head Jack Harrison’s cross into the net.
I’ll give myself half a mark for this one!
Bamford then went a couple of games without a goal, missing a few good chances against Manchester City and then struggling to get much against Wolves, which was probably the most like any of the games Leeds played in the Championship last season.
He made up for those two games in a big way though, scoring a hat-trick against Aston Villa as Leeds came out 3–0 winners and ended the game week in sixth place.
The goal itself came directly from a rebound — as five of his non-penalty goals did in 19/20 — so I can’t take this one as a win for my theory.
However, when we watch the goal in full, it came from Leeds bursting through Villa’s mid-block in a matter of 20 seconds and Rodrigo shooting across goal in acres of space. Whilst this wasn’t Bamford taking the initial shot, the shot that Rodrigo took is the kind of one that I think Leeds as a whole will get more of this season.
This is encouraging for my theory. Bamford will get more shots like that as well and if he doesn’t he’ll be there to mop up any rebounds that come from those chances.
The Leeds number 9 then struck from outside the box to make it 2–0.
Bamford received the ball to his feet, took a touch to the right to set himself and then generated astonishing power with a side-footed shot with no backlift to beat Emi Martinez.
In my previous article, I mentioned that I watched all of Bamford’s goals at Middlesbrough, Derby and MK Dons. In those clips, I saw him score from outside the box quite a few times and it’s clearly something that he has in his locker.
He didn’t score any from outside the box in 19/20 but I wonder if that’s because he spent so much time inside the box occupying defenders who were defending extremely deep.
This is definitely not the exact type of goal that I was thinking of when writing the previous article, although I definitely would have expected him to score a couple of goals from outside the box during the season.
My overarching point from before was that he has good shooting technique when he has time to set himself, rather than having to instinctively react. In this example, he clearly wasn’t acting on instinct.
What seems to be the case here, is that Bamford is full of confidence after making such a fast start to the season. A confident Bamford takes on shots like this and backs himself to score. Who can blame him when he does this?
Finally, his hat-trick goal.
It’s a close call between this goal and the previous one for his best goal of the season so far, but personally, I like this one the most.
When the ball came to him, Bamford was immediately closed down by four different Villa defenders and was almost completely surrounded.
All four of them seemed scared to foul him, likely thinking that he couldn’t score given how little of the net he could see and thus held off from making a challenge. However, they didn’t bank on Bamford showing incredible close control to manoeuvre the ball into just enough space to curl the ball into the far corner of the net.
I obviously can’t claim that this goal is a perfect example of Bamford finishing better when he has space, as he barely had any space at all here. I do feel that it’s a fantastic example of his technical ability though and a big part of my previous article was positing the idea that Bamford is a fine technical player.
This was a moment where he received the ball in the box but as soon as it came to him he knew exactly what he wanted to do with it and he had the ability to execute.
Let’s compare it to this chance which I used in the previous article:
Although Bamford was in front of the Nottingham Forest defender and it looks from this freeze-frame like a fairly easy volley into the net, Bamford failed to react to the pace of the cross from Harrison and the ball hit him rather than he hit the ball, looping up into the hands of the Forest goalkeeper.
These were the types of chances that I felt Bamford missed most often. They’d be considered big-chances per xG, but they simply don’t play to his strengths as a finisher. He is considered, not reactive.
His hat-trick goal against Villa is a far more difficult opportunity, but Bamford made it look easy because it plays to his strengths.
As I’ve said earlier in this piece, we’re still talking a very small sample size so far this season and it’s entirely possible that Bamford’s finishing could go cold at any moment, turning his xG over-performance into under-performance and making these two pieces I’ve written about him look stupid.
However, I’m going to stick my neck out at this point and say that he will over-achieve his xG over the course of the season. I’ve seen enough at this point to say that the types of chances I hoped he would get, he is getting and his goalscoring is speaking for itself.
It clearly is the case that Leeds are being afforded far more space than they were in the Championship. It might be a coincidence that this is benefiting Bamford so much. However, this seems to be benefiting more than Bamford, as Harrison and Costa, the next worst under-performers of xG last season, are also both over-performing their xG as it stands.
Rodrigo is currently under-performing his xG, but historically he has done so throughout his career, so perhaps this won’t change. My point previously was that Bamford has not historically underperformed his xG until coming to Leeds and finding that teams sat deep, starving him of space.
I hope that now he’s on this run and Leeds’ transitional style seems so perfectly suited to the Premier League, he will continue to make hay. The one danger is that more teams in the Premier League start to react in the way that the Championship did and stop affording Leeds any space. However, I think there are only a small amount of teams that will be willing to compromise their own attacking intent that much at this level.
Be that as it may, if Bamford does go cold at some stage, he’s proven by now that he deserves patience.