Talking Tactics

Allardyce must bring back basics at Leeds

By Adrian Clarke 3 May 2023
Sam Allardyce Talking Tactics

Adrian Clarke says new head coach will seek better defensive solidity in relegation battle

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Team analysis - Leeds United

With four matches left to play Sam Allardyce has been charged with the task of preserving Leeds' Premier League status.

The remaining fixtures look challenging for the new head coach.

Allardyce begins his tenure with a trip to leaders Manchester City, before facing former clubs Newcastle United and West Ham United, and ending with a final-day home encounter against Tottenham Hotspur.

Leeds hope Allardyce can inspire a "new manager bounce".

In his last three top-flight roles, which were all mid-season appointments, he has experienced a positive start only once, at Everton in 2017/18.

On that occasion Allardyce earned 10 points from his opening four matches in charge.

Last time out at West Bromwich Albion he picked up one point; an identical return to his experience across his first four matches at Crystal Palace.

Allardyce's first four matches in charge
Club Season W D L Pts
Crystal Palace 2016/17 0 1 3 1
Everton 2017/18 3 1 0 10
West Brom 2020/21 0 1 3 1

Allardyce inherits a Leeds side who have leaked 23 goals in their last seven matches.

For this reason, you can expect him to focus his attention on improving team shape and defensive organisation.

He is not set on one specific formation, but it is unusual for an Allardyce side to line up without a lone striker.

Out of possession his sides tend to drop into a 4-5-1, but on the ball he likes to deploy two wingers in support of the main centre-forward.

Allardyce's favoured formations
Palace Everton West Brom
4-2-3-1 57% 4-2-3-1 50% 4-1-4-1 40%
4-1-4-1 14% 4-3-3 25% 4-4-1-1 36%

Both Jesse Marsch and Javier Gracia preferred a 4-2-3-1, so we may see a continuation of that shape.

Leeds have earned only five clean sheets from 34 matches.

In open play they have given up too many quality opportunities to their opponents.

Their Expected Goals Against (xGA) from open play is a division-high 44.1, and this is reflected in the 52 goals they have conceded this way, the most of any Premier League side.

Clean-sheet mentality

Allardyce has always tried to build a clean-sheet mentality within his squad.

Over the course of his career he has earned shutouts in 27.7 per cent of his matches.

If that level had been replicated across this season by Leeds, they would have amassed between nine and 10 clean sheets.

This could have made a tremendous difference to their league position.

Allardyce teams' defensive records
Club P Goals conceded/match Clean sheet %
Bolton 226 1.3 27.4%
West Ham 114 1.3 29.8%
Blackburn 76 1.4 32.9%
Sunderland 30 1.5 23.3%
West Brom 25 2.0 16.0%
Everton 24 1.3 33.3%
Newcastle 21 1.6 14.3%
Crystal Palace 21 1.5 28.6%
Total 537 1.4 27.7%

Leeds have tried to play through the lines for the majority of 2022/23.

On average just 12 per cent of their passes have been classified as long, but this figure is likely to jump across the remaining matches.

Allardyce's teams go from back to front quickly, often taking the aerial route, so we could see a noticeable shift at Man City on Saturday.

In at least three of their four remaining fixtures - with the possible exception of their match at West Ham - we are also likely to see Leeds have far less possession than their season average of 48 per cent.

Allardyce teams' possession/long passes 
Club Possession % long passes
Bolton N/A N/A
West Ham 43.6% 18.5%
Blackburn 44.1% 20.9%
Sunderland 39.9% 21.0%
West Brom 34.8% 21.7%
Everton 44.2% 19.3%
Newcastle 50.3% 18.9%
Crystal Palace 41.7% 21.5%

There is a strong possibility Allardyce will instruct his players to drop into a compact shape with 10 or 11 men behind the ball, before launching fast and direct counter-attacks.

Without leaving a high defensive line, he will also want to crowd space in midfield by working in packs to press the man on the ball.

This was his tactical approach in a 5-2 win by his West Brom side at Chelsea in April 2021.

In a 5-4-1 that day they showed resilience, before efficiently picking off Thomas Tuchel’s side on the break, with just 34 per cent of possession.

It will be tough to replicate that formula at the Etihad Stadium this Saturday, but it is a ploy which has worked for Allardyce in the past.

Also in this series

Part 2: Isak poses biggest threat to Arsenal's title hopes
Part 3: Key battles of Monday's matches

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