Leeds United were looking to maintain their excellent start to the 2019/20 EFL Championship when they travelled to Craven Cottage to face Fulham. Fulham were looking to jump into third after what had been an overall satisfying season thus far. Leeds were coming off the bounce from a 3-3 draw with Cardiff City and after being 3-0 up in the game this was a hugely disappointing result. In order for them to obtain automatic promotion-winning, these sorts of games were vital. Fulham were also looking to recover after three losses in a row. Their overall hopes of getting straight back into the Premier League would rest on them being able to pick up their form and ensure they started to pick up points, especially at home. The clash between the two promotion hopefuls promised to be an exciting encounter.
Fulham eventually ran out 2-1 winners in what was to many a surprise result. The result itself meant that Fulham jumped back into third and two points clear of Sheffield Wednesday in sixth position. Leeds, on the other hand, have had a poor week in terms of results and need to pick up their form to avoid repeating their playoff collapse last season.
This tactical analysis will attempt to look at the patterns of play seen within the match itself and the ways in which both teams attempted to win the match. This analysis will also look at the tactics of both teams and the way in which Fulham were able to edge out over Leeds in key areas of the pitch.
Fulham set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Marek Rodák started in between the sticks for Fulham. Cyrus Christie and Joe Byran were the two full-backs who were looking to provide defensive support against Leeds array of attacking talent. Alfie Mawson and Tim Ream as the two starting centre backs. Harrison Reed and Josh Onomah were the two defensive midfielders who attempted to provide defensive solidarity and allow the attacking players to get forward. Ivan Cavalerio, Tom Cairney and Bobby Reid were the attacking midfielders who looked to press and provide attacking support for Fulham going forward. Aleksandar Mitrović was the starting striker, his hold up play would be vital.
As for Leeds, Kiko Casilla started in between the sticks. Luke Ayling and Stewart Dallas were the two full-backs, looking to use a numerical advantage to provide attacking support. Liam Cooper and Ben White were the two centre backs who looked to provide defensive solidarity. Kalvin Phillips was the holding midfielder. He was the base of the team and was the key when linking the midfield to the attack. Mateusz Klich and Pablo Hernández were the two more advanced central midfielders who looked to get forward and provide the forwards with support. Hélder Costa and Jack Harrison were the wide players who supported the lone striker Patrick Bamford.
Leeds’ Build Up Play
An interesting development seen throughout the match was the way in which Leeds attempted to build out from the back. As they lined up in a formation with one central defensive midfielder in Kalvin Phillips it meant that he would drop into deeper areas in order to help Leeds create an advantage situation when bringing the ball out. By having a deep-lying midfielder in this area it meant they could beat the Fulham press and create attacking situations by having more players in spaces to find passes.
Furthermore, as will be discussed later Fulham attempted to use their attacking midfielders in higher areas of the pitch to prevent Leeds from playing out from the back. Therefore, Leeds used this build-up play as a solution to beat this press. Below is an example of this, we can see Leeds in possession of the ball and a triangular based shape forming as a result of them attempting to beat this press.
Playing out from the back is almost food and drink for Leeds in the modern game. Phillips is one of the best defensive midfielders in the division due to his ability to drop deep and find spaces in order to create attacking avenues. Below is a further example of this build-up play. We can see Fulham attempting to stop Leeds coming out from the back. However, due to the numerical advantage created by deploying these sort of situations whereby they could use the ball in order to move forward with the ball it meant Fulham struggled to press.
Fulham’s Strategic Pressing
As mentioned earlier, Leeds were looking for a solution for Fulham’s strategic pressing. This was done by Fulham’s attacking midfielders who were playing off the central striker Aleksandar Mitrović. The three attacking midfielders, Ivan Cavalerio, Tom Cairney and Bobby Reid would position themselves in higher areas of the pitch in order to stop Leeds United coming out with the ball. The main objective was to stop Kalvin Phillips having an influence on the game. Tom Cairney was key in this as he was deployed to stop this. This was essential in their game plan and throughout the game, they deployed it to great effect. Below is an example of this. Leeds have the ball in a deeper area however, the attacking midfielders are able to push high in order to prevent Leeds from coming out with the ball.
The most interesting development based around these attacking midfielders is the narrow nature in which they pressed. Furthermore, this was to counter-attack If the ball came to them in a transition. By being compact in this regard and having a narrow base when pressing in the higher areas of the pitch. A way to show this is by looking at the average positional areas of the attacking midfielders. We can see below how narrow all three of them are. Number 10, 14, and 19 represent all of the attacking midfielders and we can see them extremely narrow and it tight positions to potentially spring on the counter-attack.
This was seen throughout the whole game, especially in the second half. By having these three in areas where they could stop Leeds from building out from the back. Preventing the build-up play was essential to prevent Leeds from getting any form of possession in key areas. Transitioning the ball between the lines is something that Fulham needed to stop to prevent the talented players Leeds possess getting the ball in key areas of the pitch. Below is a further example of this and it is extremely evident of the systematic pressing that Scott Parker uses in the bigger games.
A further development that was noticeable in the game was the inverted overlapping nature of the Leeds full-backs. As mentioned earlier, the front three of Fulham were engaged with pressing in the higher areas of the pitch. This, therefore, left a gaping hole in the full-back areas which allowed Leeds an advantage in this sense. The full-backs would often make inverted runs in between the opposing centre back and the full-back. This, in a sense, was to create a numerical advantage in terms of the wider areas. Ezgjan Alioski was the more likely of the two full-backs to do this. Below is an example of this. Alioski is about to make a run in an inverted manner to create a chance for Leeds. This was a general pattern seen throughout the match.
This was seen throughout the match. The more important aspect of this is the numerical advantage the Leeds players have in wider areas of the pitch when attacking. This once again means that quick transition play would lead them to being in dangerous positions of the pitch. This is why Leeds were able to get in so much on the flanks. Below we can see that the Leeds players have an advantage and by playing a quick one-two play they are able to get a chance on goal.
Harrison Reed had an extremely effective game against Leeds on Saturday in both the offensive and defensive requirements of the game. Like Kalvin Phillips for Leeds, his role when Fulham had the ball was to drop between the centre backs to create attacking avenues for Fulham to attack in. By him dropping deep into the sweeper position it meant that Fulham had an extra body back and it meant that the attacking players had less defensive responsibilities and could press from the front. He made 12 recoveries in this position which was more than any player on the pitch. His role at being the base of the midfield was essential to Fulham’s build-up play and breaking up Leeds attacking play. Below is an example of the positioning he would take up, on average, when Fulham had the ball. We can see it is deep and between the centre backs.
Reed was exceptional at finding space in front of the back four in order to have control of the game. His influence was key in order to allow the other attacking players space to move into and create attacking situations. It also allowed the full-backs to push forward in order to provide attacking support. Leeds were forced to attack in wider areas due to his ability to win the ball back and create counter-attacks. Below is an example of the positioning sense that Reed took up in order to prevent any play through the middle. His role in the team should therefore not be underestimated.
To conclude, the clash between the two promotion hopefuls ended up in a disappointing day for Leeds and an excellent one for Fulham. Fulham were able to control the requirements of the game that was asked of them. They were able to stop Leeds’s usual attacking talent from having an impact and were, therefore, able to cause them problems with their own attacking talent. Leeds will be disappointed with their defeat and will be looking to bounce back and maintain their automatic playoff place. Fulham will be delighted with the overall performance and result and will hope that it pushes them to maintain a playoff place.
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