This week saw a full midweek fixture list on offer in the championship with one of the standout games coming from Elland Road. Two promotion hopefuls in Leeds United and Brentford faced off in the EFL Championship. Amongst this game were other subplots. The returning Pontus Jansson caused a stir from the terraces as he arrived at Elland Road as well as the fact Brentford were the side who defeated Leeds late last season to all but confirm the playoffs for the West Yorkshire side during their collapse last term.
A dominant performance from Leeds United saw home debutant Eddie Nketiah score late on from a swept cross delivered by fellow loanee Helder Costa. The 1-0 win takes Leeds top of the EFL Championship table. This championship tactical analysis will look in-depth at how the teams played and set up against one another.
The first change of personnel for Leeds this season as Marcelo Bielsa was forced to swap and injured Barry Douglas for Gianni Alioski. Brentford boss Thomas Frank was also forced into changing the XI that started Saturday’s draw with Hull City with Ethan Pinnock taking his place at the back.
Leeds have dangerous players on either wing in Jack Harrison, Pablo Hernandez and with full-backs Stuart Dallas and Alioski. The latter pair starting their Leeds careers as wingers but converted to full-backs to fulfill Bielsa’s demands of players having more than one role. Brentford’s Canos and Watkins were their main threats and the clubs only two scorers in the Championship so far this season.
Forshaw dropping deep
Throughout the match, there were examples of how Leeds’ midfield supported each other in different areas. This was usually done to counter Brentford’s high block when Leeds had the ball in front of their box. One key element of this to analysis is how Adam Forshaw drops from his attacking midfield position to support Kalvin Phillips.
Phillips can be seen here operating as a single pivot in-front of Liam Cooper, this position is why he has played 360 passes (the most at the club) so far this season. He can usually drop into this area to find space to play.
However, on this occasion, Phillips has dragged three Brentford players with him (one out of frame) which created a large amount of vacated space in his eye line. As Phillips moves into that space it triggers a burst of movement from Forshaw to fill that space and receive. In the image below, Forshaw is in the middle of three, static Brentford attackers where he can lay a pass back to White who looks wide to Dallas.
Another example shows Gianni Alioski with the ball looking to cut inside from left-back. Forshaw is currently seen behind Da Silva. In this image, Phillips can be seen on the left side of the defensive three as Ben White (centre) recovers his position. Forshaw never receives the ball but instead creates space in place of Phillips by making a run on DaSilva’s blindside, thus moving the Brentford midfielder wider.
In this follow up image the space made is now occupied by Alisoki as he continues inside. Da Silva has realised the error of his movement and begins to leave Forshaw unmarked in the hope he can help Henrik Dalsgaard in his pursuit of the Leeds full-back. The arrow in the second image shows Forshaw’s movement to create the space.
The way Phillips and Forshaw created balance in this area was key to Leeds’ success in this 1-0 victory. It allowed Leeds to have enough players to receive the ball and play into the centre-backs or full-backs whilst soaking up the opposition pressure, therefore, leaving teammates available to receive and play into different areas. The key is that Forshaw starts higher up the midfield and waits to the trigger to drop to receive. When Phillips is crowded out, he begins to drop to one side allowing for Forshaw to make that move. The latter recorded a passing accuracy of 95% against Brentford completing 52 out of 55 passes.
Leeds wasteful over the top
A key aspect of Leeds United’s tactics this season has been their quicker attacking play. Notably, this has come from chipped passes over the top of defences. Usually playing a higher line is asking for trouble due to the space left behind, especially if the goalkeeper is used as a sweeper. Teams would usually play a slightly deeper line to combat this as it restricts the space the ball can be played into.
Brentford played with a relatively high line at Elland Road. Encouraging Leeds to play over the top. Leeds were mostly unsuccessful in this tactic and as much as poor execution is to blame, Brentford had a plan to stop it.
Brentford started with a back three which swiftly became a back five when under attack and is what they try and do in the below frame. The ball is about to be received by Forshaw who takes a touch before lifting one over the top to Dallas. Dallas is in a perfect position due to Henry’s body shape, however the time it takes for Forshaw to play the pass the chance is gone.
In addition to that, Ethan Pinnock takes up a position where he is not required to mark anyone, due to Brentford’s endeavour to get five defenders back. This means he can track the ball and any run made over the top without leaving a Leeds player unmarked. A smart piece of defending.
Below is another example where Brentford’s high defensive line invites the ball to be played in behind.
You can now see in the below image the destination of the pass and its intended target. Patrick Bamford is very isolated in attack and unless the pass is inch-perfect, he is certain to have to control and look to hold the play up. This is an aspect of his game he has been exceptional at so far this season but with a number of Brentford players back and around him this would force Leeds back.
Brentford’s defensive line was not always high and inviting to the ball over the top. The below example shows a low block employed to stop that type of pass happening. The back five of Brentford drop into a good position blocking the Leeds forwards in-front of them. In this instance, Pablo Hernandez feels he has no choice but to play to the spare man on the right (Stuart Dallas).
As you can see above the ball rolls out of play with Leeds players giving up on it before it goes out. Thus giving the ball back to Brentford which earned them some light relief in the second half.
Brentford’s flexible backline
The London club began the game with what looked like a 5-4-1 on paper. However, in keeping with modern footballing tactics employed a flexible system which changed depending on whether or not they had the ball.
When in possession they were able to employ Pinnock, Jansson, and Jeanvier as a back three. This allowed Henry and Dalsgaard to play higher up the pitch. However, when defending Brentford were able to have five defenders with the aforementioned wingers dropping deep to fill the wide void.
Brentford’s wing-back system was used to create over and unloads in the right areas. Often they had a back five to stop Leeds’ link up in wide areas and to deal with the overlap of Dallas and Allioski.
In the example below the back three of Brentford can be seen staying central to their defence, creating an overload centrally. This allows for Henry to come back on the right side and stop the overlap of Dallas and Hernandez.
As the attack progresses below Henry can be seen on the blindside of Klich. This meant he could not advance due to Pinnock’s body shape and position. In addition to this, Dallas is forced to make a run inside as there is a clear overload in wide areas in favour of the away side.
The attack breaks down as Klich is forced to play a difficult pass inside which is swept up by the recovering Christian Nørgaard. As seen in the below clip, by the end of the attack, Brentford’s back five still have the numerical advantage in this situation due to the flexibility of the backline.
One further example of this shows the ball played forward from a deep laying Hernandez into Bamford who holds the ball up under pressure from Pinnock. Due to the overloading of Brentford’s backline again, Pinnock can pursue Bamford to stop him turning.
With Bamford occupied by Pinnock, Forshaw finds himself with a quick decision to make. He clips the ball into an area behind the Brentford which, as mentioned earlier, is high up so to encourage the ball over the top. The ball is subsequently collected by Raya.
Another win in August takes Leeds United back to the top of the EFL Championship table with 10 points. While Brentford find themselves in 18th place on four points. The home side will be happy to take all three points as they dominated in large parts throughout with their consistent pressure on the ball, retention of possession and willingness to attack in different ways. They have also seen their goalkeeper keep three clean sheets in a row and only faced six completed passes into his area in the Championship this season.
This has been key to Leeds’ success so far this season as they have not been able to convert as many chances as they would have liked so far. With players such as Phillips and Forshaw more than happy to drop back into position to defend and receive in tight areas.
Brentford have struggled to create chances in the Championship this season but at the other end looked to have improved defensively as they stayed regimented in their in and out of possession tactics. After the game manager Thomas Frank mentioned his teams ‘big desire to defend’, ‘good organisation and their high line’. This is true as noted in the above analysis the high line of the defence was effective in stopping passes over the top and the wing-back system was implemented well and was very well organised.
Leeds will remember that they were in the same position last year and will never forget how the season ended. Brentford will have left Elland Road disappointed that they conceded late on but with positives to take from the game.