Whites sit third in the table but third bottom for chance conversion

          Leeds United, where's the finishing touch?

          2019/11/08 09:50
          By Sam Bevan

          Leeds United are currently joint second in the Championship, only two points off West Brom in first. However, the underlying issue of not finishing off chances, and matches themselves, keeps reoccurring and is threatening their chances of automatic promotion.


          Creating Chances is Easy

          Yet again, Leeds sit top of the 'Chances Created' rankings, taking the lead by a significant margin, especially considering the absence of creative wizard Pablo Hernandez throughout October. In the 2018/19 season, the ex-Spain international made the most key passes of any player in the Championship (177) as well as the second most chances created (55), despite missing six games of the season.

          However, the issue for Marcelo Bielsa wasn’t one of style, or the team's ability to create chances. It was converting these chances. 

          So Near Yet so Far

          Kemar Roofe’s move to Anderlecht in the summer window of the 2019/20 season provided an initial shock to the Leeds fanbase, however, there was always a slight expectation that the striker would move on, his suspect injury record compounded by the fact his his contract had only one year remaining.
          Bielsa decided that a permanent replacement wasn’t needed, and instead opted to loan the highly-rated future Arsenal star, Eddie Nketiah - the Englishman going against Unai Emery's wishes in search of regular football. Adding the U21 England striker to the squad was key in providing Patrick Bamford with competition up front, although Nketiah is yet to start a Championship game. 

          The difference between Bamford and Nketiah’s performance statistics is huge, and fans have argued between themselves about who should be starting. 
          Bamford’s work rate and ability to hold up the ball has seen the 26-year-old keep his starting place, with the promise that 'goals are coming' being reiterated by the club and the player himself.

          To say Bamford has been unlucky this season would be an understatement. He does everything right, but it doesn’t seem to fall the same way as it does when Nketiah comes off the bench. This was showcased in the game against Sheffield Wednesday when Bamford got on the end of Jack Harrison’s cross and perfectly angled in a header to the far corner, only for Championship veteran goalkeeper Kieran Westwood to perform a wonder save, rarely seen for an attacking sequence like that one. 

          Opposite Sides of the Scale

          Despite topping the chances created charts, Leeds occupy 11th place in goals scored and, frighteningly, 22nd place in chance conversion rate. A conversion rate of 20% is not good enough for a team fighting for the automatic promotion places.

          Only Middlesbrough (16%) and Barnsley (18%) post lower conversion rates than the Whites, with the two teams above them in the league table both in the top four for the division's best conversion rates. Preston with 41% (first) and West Brom with 33% (fourth.)

          Breaking down the chances, expected goals (xG) data shows first choice striker Bamford should be around the nine goal mark after 15 games, the second highest of any striker in the Championship. However, despite having 27 chances and 41 shots, Bamford has only managed to find the back of the net on four occasions, all coming in the first five games of the 2019/20 season.

          The ex-Chelsea man has now failed to score in a match since August and debate regarding whether he should keep his spot is hotting up. However, his manager Bielsa hasn’t lost faith in Bamford, constantly praising his work rate and hold up play, deeming that his first choice (to this point at least!) is making runs for the sake of the team, while Nketiah’s are focused firmly on scoring goals himself. 

          Including the League Cup, Nketiah has scored five goals this season, overtaking Bamford as Leeds' top scorer after his header rescued a point away at Deepdale. The Arsenal loanee has scored the winning goal in two league games, as well as the equaliser against Preston, and is pushed hard to break into Bielsa's starting line-up.

          Bielsa’s stance on the situation is that Bamford has to play for the sake of team, and has been open regarding the option to play Eddie in behind Bamford. However, this tactic hasn’t been utilised yet, with Bielsa openly rueing the fact that he has had limited time to work on Nketiah and Bamford's partnership during international breaks.

          ©Getty / Alex Pantling

          Even when the opportunity for the two front men to start together has presented itself, fate has intervened.

          Due to injuries at left back for the home against QPR, the versatile Stuart Dallas covered at full-back, opening up the centre midfield/number 10 slot. This was the perfect chance for Nketiah to finally start a game and show what he is about. But, in typical Leeds fashion, the striker suffered an injury in the penultimate training session on the Friday before the match.
          Tyler Roberts filled the gap and was key in the Whites’ 2-0 victory, the first time Leeds have scored two goals at home in the Championship regular season since March 2019. 

          Ultimately for Bielsa’s side, they need to improve their conversion rate if they are to stand any chance of gaining automatic promotion. It might just require a little bit of luck for Leeds, and Bamford in particular, but if their finishing improves to match the level of the teams around them, things could quickly look bright in a division where consistency is everything.


          Eddie Nketiah
          NameEdward Keddar Nketiah
          Born1999-05-30(20 -yrs-old)
          Dual Nationality
          PositionForward (Striker)


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