Talking Tactics

How Gracia has given Leeds width and greater control

By Adrian Clarke 24 Mar 2023

Adrian Clarke analyses the Spaniard's positive start as he seeks to guide the Whites to safety

Related Articles
Watch: Javi Gracia on big Wolves victory External Link
March Barclays Manager of the Month nominees
Leeds confirm appointment of Javi Gracia

Adrian Clarke looks at the impact of new managers in the relegation fight, which is the closest ever at this stage of the season, with only four points separating the bottom nine clubs.

Javi Gracia (Leeds)

Leeds United needed the arrival of Gracia to have a stabilising effect and four matches into his tenure, with seven points on the board, he is in the process of delivering that.

Gracia's to-do list at Leeds would have included targeting less defensive chaos, adding greater width to the attacking play and producing more control in possession.

While it is early days, those areas have already been addressed.

The relegation fight

Position Pos Club Played Pl GD Points Pts
12 Chelsea CHE 38 -9 44
13 Wolverhampton Wanderers WOL 38 -27 41
14 West Ham United WHU 38 -13 40
15 Bournemouth BOU 38 -34 39
16 Nottingham Forest NFO 38 -30 38
17 Everton EVE 38 -23 36
18 Leicester City LEI 38 -17 34
19 Leeds United LEE 38 -30 31
20 Southampton SOU 38 -37 25
View More

One of the less successful tactics of Gracia's predecessor Jesse Marsch was the narrowness of the team's shape.

Marsch wanted his side to have numbers down the centre of the pitch to help them create turnovers in areas of maximum danger.

Often his wingers found themselves tucked inside and without deploying natural attacking full-backs, Leeds struggled to stretch their opponents across the width of the pitch.

As a result, they are among the lowest Premier League teams for crosses, producing only 56 accurate deliveries from open play this season.

Fewest successful open-play crosses 22/23
Club Succ. open-play crosses
Crystal Palace 40
Leicester 52
Nott'm Forest 52
Leeds 56
Man Utd 61

Gracia is placing more emphasis on width, using Junior Firpo and Luke Ayling as his full-backs, who are both adventurous by nature.

He has also moved Leeds' best crosser, Jack Harrison, from a No 10 role back to his familiar left-wing position.

Leeds' supply line of open-play crosses has increased from 10.0 per match to 13.3 since Gracia took charge.

Leeds with/without Gracia 22/23
  Open-play crosses Ave. per 90
First 23 matches 231 10.0
Last four matches 53 13.3

Prior to Gracia's arrival, Leeds had scored only six goals in a run of nine matches, but have already matched that tally in their last three fixtures.

Patrick Bamford's return to full fitness has helped, as has Rodrigo's availability.

Rodrigo's goal v Wolves
Control and composure

Leeds' match-management across 2022/23 has been a little too erratic.

When they have conceded first their record is poor, with 10 defeats from 13 such occasions and only five points collected.

Their record when going 1-0 up also leaves room for improvement, with only five of 11 leads being converted into victories and three losses in those matches.

Part of the problem under Marsch's leadership was a lack of controlled possession.

Leeds rarely relieved pressure or took the sting out of matches by trying to keep the ball. Often, their encounters were open and end-to-end.

Leeds' lack of control 2022/23
Fewest build-up attacks Fewest 10+ pass sequences
Brentford 22 AFC Bournemouth 119
Leeds 23 Leeds 143
AFC Bournemouth 23 Brentford 145
Nott'm Forest 29 Nott'm Forest 148
Everton 32 Southampton 185

While Gracia is unlikely to turn Leeds into a possession-based side, he will ask his players to be calmer when they have the ball.

In order to ease the defence's workload and to ensure that their talented forwards have the ball more often in advanced areas, they need to add greater control.

TV Info

There is work to be done defensively, with six goals conceded in the last two matches, but in general Leeds look more organised and sturdier.

In and out of possession, the early signs indicate that Gracia has his team moving in the right direction.

Key wins over Southampton and Wolverhampton Wanderers, coupled with a draw against in-form Brighton & Hove Albion, have certainly lifted belief within the squad.

Also in this series

Part 2: Positive approach paying off for Lopetegui
Part 3: Dyche's style bringing stability to Everton
Part 4: How Hodgson's return will change Crystal Palace

Latest Videos

More Videos