Should Leeds United shoot more from distance?

Recently, we received a question into our Twitter account regarding Leeds’ perceived lack of shots from outside the penalty box in the 2019/20 season thus far: should Leeds be shooting from outside the box more often or is it part of Marcelo Bielsa’s game plan that they don’t shoot from range very often? If so, why?

I felt there was a lot to this question and it warranted a much longer answer than one that could be given via Twitter.

There are a few things to address: primarily, is it true that Leeds don’t shoot from outside the box very often? Only then will we make it onto the tactical aspects.

Fact or Fiction?

I want to suggest that it’s actually a myth that Leeds don’t shoot from outside the box. The reason people think this is because Leeds are not currently scoring from outside the box.

As you can see from the bar chart above, only Millwall have scored fewer than Leeds from beyond the 18-yard line. Leeds’ only successful attempt was scored by Pablo Hernandez in their opening fixture, away at Bristol City. This was Leeds’ first goal of the season, meaning they have scored 20 times since the last time they scored from outside the box.

This is not for lack of trying. The fact is, Leeds actually have the second-highest total of shots taken from outside the 18-yard box, with 99.

Looking at the bar chart, one would assume that West Bromwich Albion take many more shots from range than Leeds do or at least a higher proportion of their shots. However, neither of these assumptions are correct.

It is Fulham who have taken the greatest amount of shots from outside the box and, on this graph showing the percentage of shots taken from outside the box, we can see that West Brom actually attempted a lower proportion than Leeds as well.

The size of the badges on the graph corresponds to the number of shots taken per 90, with Huddersfield having the lowest number and Leeds the highest. Although Leeds are under the average for the percentage of shots taken outside the box, the fact that they take so many shots means their total number of shots from outside the box is the second-highest in the league.

In the case of Fulham, they have taken 32 shots fewer than the Elland Road club this season. However, they have taken two more shots from outside the box, as their percentage of shots from outside the box is significantly above average.

West Brom meanwhile, have taken a lower percentage of shots from outside the box than Leeds. However, they have scored seven times the amount from these shots.

This could be thought of as an unsustainable number and perhaps they will drop off in terms of scoring long shots so often. However, when you consider that Grady Diangana and Matheus Pereira have scored over half of these, it suggests that their high conversion rate comes from the fact that they possess players who don’t belong at this level.

That doesn’t excuse Leeds’ poor distance shooting, though. It may well be true that West Brom and Fulham have some of the best individual forwards in the league, but it’s not true of Preston North End.

For example, Daniel Johnson and Paul Gallagher are very good players at this level, but they wouldn’t make it into many people’s teams if they were picking the Championship’s best players. Despite this, Preston have four times the amount of long-distance goals that Leeds have, even despite taking the lowest percentage of shots from outside the box.

Things can only get better

Whilst it might not be the case that Leeds need to take more shots from outside the area, it is certainly true that they do need to improve in their execution.

By this same point last season, they had managed five goals from outside the box, with Mateusz Klich leading the way with twoand Jack Harrison, Pablo Hernandez and Tyler Roberts all chipping in with one each. Klich’s effort against Sheffield Wednesday went on to be voted Leeds’ goal of the season for 18/19.

So does this mean Klich’s shooting has gotten worse?

In 2018/19, Klich was hitting the target from range 19.23% of the time and scoring 3.84% of the time. This season his accuracy is actually up to 23.52%. However, he hasn’t scored any.

When watching the shots he has hit the target from, one can see that the vast majority of them came in a single game, Leeds’ 3–0 win away at Stoke City back in August. They were all relatively easy saves for the goalkeeper. There are none flying towards the corners like his strike against Sheffield Wednesday and this is certainly an area he would hope to improve in.

Apart from Klich, Leeds’ only other player who has taken more than five shots from outside the box and hit the target with over 20% of their efforts is Pablo Hernandez. With him not being fit recently, this has compounded the issue of Leeds failing to hit the target from range.

So whilst we suggest it’s a myth that Leeds don’t take shots from distance, the graph does show that they are slightly below the average for the Championship.

This leads us onto the next part of the question:

Does distance shooting go against Marcelo Bielsa’s style of play?

In a word, yes. However, that hasn’t stopped Leeds from taking a lot of them. When a decent opportunity presents itself, Leeds will take on an effort at goal and as Leeds are attacking more often than almost any other team in the Championship, this happens a lot.

It is a principle of Leeds’ attacking play to always look for the incisive pass rather than take a low percentage shot that would simply result in them losing possession of the ball. Rather than taking a long shot, Bielsa would prefer Leeds take a ‘better’ shot. Leeds have taken 10% of their shots from inside the 6-yard box, which is significantly higher than the league’s top scorers, Preston, who have only 7% of their efforts coming from that area.

This principle is reflected in the fact that Leeds are dominant when it comes to ‘big chances,’ which are defined by Opta as ‘a situation where a player should reasonably be expected to score, usually in a one on one scenario or from very close range when the ball has a clear path to goal and there is low to moderate pressure on the shooter. Penalties are always considered big chances.

As shown by the graph, Leeds’ finishing of these chances has been suspect: it’s below the league average by around 5%. However, the point is, Leeds are creating more chances than anybody else in the league, they’re just not scoring enough of them.

Looking to the Premier League, Manchester City are a side who are extremely focused on creating big chances, creating an enormous 4.66 per 90. They take a tiny proportion of their shots from outside the box at 30%. In their case, the patience to make the extra passes and create the better chance has paid off, with them scoring 35 goals in 12 games. Only three of those goals have come from outside the penalty area.

Interestingly enough, City have the opposite problem to Leeds, as their quest to retain the Premier league title is being let down by a poor defence, whilst Leeds water-tight defence is their best attribute. However, in attack, Manchester City have world-class players to call upon and Leeds United do not.

It is obviously the case that a higher quality of players are likely to score more goals. But the principle that creating more big chances than any other team really should mean that Leeds give themselves the greatest opportunity to score more goals.

It seems to be the case that every time we talk or write about anything regarding Leeds in 2019/20, it always comes back round to conversion rates. If Leeds were scoring long shots at the same rate as Fulham, they’d have scored the same amount as them, being that their total long shots are virtually the same.

If that were the case, nobody would be asking whether Leeds need to shoot more. In fact, one could argue that with such a poor conversion rate, Leeds should continue looking for the pass and create another big chance.

Whatever the answer, it can’t be denied that scoring goals is the major issue in an otherwise dominant team. It’s not all doom and gloom though, as the bright side is that Leeds have scored four goals in their last two games and will be hoping to maintain this kind of goal-scoring form to propel forward their promotion challenge.

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