In this round of the EFL Championship fixtures, Leeds United took on Millwall. The game was important for both teams as Leeds looked to keep up their fight for the top of the Championship. As for Millwall, a result would help their chances of a playoff place. This tactical analysis will break down the tactics used by Marcelo Bielsa at the start of the game and how he had to change them at half time. The analysis will also look at how Gary Rowett’s tactics were able to cause problems for Leeds.
Leeds United came into this game having lost their last three matches. Millwall have won three out of their last five. The contrast in form made it an entertaining affair with the home side coming from 2-0 down at half time to win 3-2. This tactical analysis will break down how this happened as Leeds takes a stride closer to the Premier League
With Kalvin Phillips suspended for this game Bielsa was forced into a change. However, this did not mean a change in the system as he kept with his 4-1-4-1 that they have used for most of the season. This meant that Bielsa dropped Mateusz Klich into the defensive midfield role. This position is vital to the way Leeds play as the defensive midfielder acts as the pivot in the middle to distribute the ball and control the tempo of the game.
With the way, Leeds play in mind Millwall changed their approach for this game by adopting a 3-4-3 system. This formation only has two central midfielders showing that Millwall accepting they will not have much of the ball. Instead, with four wide players, Millwall will look to counter-attack Leeds through the wings.
The game could not have started better for Millwall as after four minutes they found themselves 1-0 up. Even though the goal itself came from a corner it was Rowett’s tactics of playing down the sides that won them the corner. Despite only having 30.4% possession the away side were able to create 11 shooting opportunities five of which being on target. The system was causing problems for Leeds as the away side found themselves 2-0 up after twenty minutes, again because of an attack on wing.
The example below is just before the Millwall win the corner for the first goal. It illustrates how instead of trying to match Leeds numerical advantage in the middle they created their own three vs two on the wing. Look at how the three Millwall players are attacking in a triangle on the side. It means each player has two options on the ball. This makes it easier to play through Leeds. With three players on the side, it enables Jake Cooper to push forward and play a one-two with Jón Daði Böðvarsson as Murray Wallace will move into his position to cover the space he has left.
Early warning signs for Millwall?
Leeds are currently the Championships third-highest scorers with 46 goals. Whereas Millwall currently have a goal difference of three and have conceded 35 goals so far this season. This will give Leeds confidence that they could get at Millwall. The way Millwall were set up defensively showed early signings that despite their two-goal advantage Leeds would be able to create chances.
Millwall looks to apply a deep defensive block by having the midfield tight to the defence. This does stop Leeds from playing in the gaps between Millwall’s midfield and defence. Instead, it makes them play in front of Millwall. This should make it easier for Millwall to defend as they are aware of where the Leeds players are.
However, this does not work as Leeds have three players in a central position and options out wide. This means that when Leeds move the ball out wide it shifts two of Millwall’s players out to the ball. This subsequently gives one of the central players more space on the edge of the penalty area.
The first image shows how Millwall have a defence block on the edge of their area with all eleven players in their defensive third. The image also highlights where the Leeds midfielders like to operate in with Patrick Bamford ready to run in behind if the situation occurs. The second image is moments later when the ball goes out wide. Two Millwall players run out to block a potential cross from Luke Ayling who has been able to push up high because of how deep Millwall are. As two players run out it breaks the block they have on the edge of the box giving more time on the ball for Pablo Hernández to find a cross into the box. On this occasion, Bamford misses his header.
Leeds keeps the pressure on
Part of the reason Leeds are in the position they are in is because of their ability to control the game. It was clear from the outset of this game that Millwall tactic was to sit back and try to absorb pressure then attack down the sides. However, this is difficult to do from their third. Leeds can keep Millwall in this position because of how wide they play from the back. The two full-backs hug the touchline in an advanced position while the holding midfielder drops back alongside the centre-backs. This effectively turns Leeds 4-1-4-1 into a 3-4-3 with a high defensive line. These tactics enabled Leeds to complete 615 passes with a success rate of 83.6%. It highlights just how dominate Leeds were in this game as Millwall only completed 265 passes with an accuracy of 60.8%.
In the example below, it shows Klich picking the ball up on the halfway line with the two full-backs on either touchline. This makes it difficult to defend as if Millwall decide to maintain compact it will be easier for Leeds to get down the line and get crosses in. On the other hand, if they push out wide it gives more space for Leeds two creative midfielders. Klich is the key for it working as it requires good distribution from him. The midfielder had 104 touches completing 79 passes with an accuracy of 82.3%. This includes three shots and four key passes.
Second half breakthrough
In the first half, Leeds were able to open up Millwall as the tactical analysis has indicated. Therefore at half time, Bielsa did not see the need to change the system. Nevertheless, it was clear that he wanted his player to run in behind from a deeper position. This was because once Leeds had the ball on the edge of the box there was not the space to get in behind. Therefore if the wide player makes diagonal runs in behind earlier it is harder for Millwall to defend. This tactical change had an immediate impact as Leeds made it 2-1 three minutes into the second half.
The goal itself came from a corner. Because of the tactical instruction, Hélder Costa made the diagonal run and won a corner for Leeds. The image below shows how early he made the run taking the full-back out of the game.
As the half went on the home side continued to create chances and in the 62nd minute, they got their reward. It then only took four minutes for Leeds to then take the lead. The two goals occurred in similar ways as they came from crosses from the right-hand side.
Earlier in the analysis, we mentioned how Millwall were having trouble containing Leeds because two-player would move out to the wide player. This would then leave a midfielder in space on the edge of the box. At half time Rowett had made the tactical decision for only one player to move across. This ultimately cost the away side as it enables the full-back to pick out a cross in the box. The image below shows how Leeds scored their winning goal, it highlights the space Luke Ayling has to find Bamford in the box.
To conclude this is a fantastic result for Leeds as their form going into this game may have suggested a repeat of last year’s collapse. This result not only gets them back to winning ways but it will also give them confidence that even with the poor form they were able to trust in the way they play and turn the game around. With West Brom dropping points it means they go into their next game against Wigan top of the League and a step closer to the Premier League.
As for Millwall, it is a tough result to take after being 2-0 up. They can now analyse their performance and see what they tactically got wrong. The side still have a good chance of a playoff place as they are only three points away.