Leeds United currently leads in the EFL Championship, while Wigan Athletic only ranks 20th in the league. However, in this match, Wigan Athletic beat Leeds United with an own goal of Pablo Hernández as the final scoreline was 1-0.
In this tactical analysis, we will mostly examine the tactics of Leeds United in possession and Wigan Athletic out of possession. In this analysis, we will also take a glance at Leeds United’s defending and Wigan Athletic in possession.
Leeds United lined up with a flexible 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 formation. The goalkeeper was Kiko Casilla and the four defenders were Luke Ayling, Ben White, Liam Cooper, and Ezgjan Alioski. The three midfielders were Pablo Hernández, Mateusz Klich, and Stuart Dallas. Jack Harrison, Patrick Bamford, and Hélder Costa formed the front trio.
Wigan Athletic used a 5-3-2 formation starting with David Marshall deployed as the goalkeeper. Nathan Byrne, Cedric Kipré, Cheyenne Dunkley, Kal Naismith, and Tom Pearce formed a five-man defensive line. Lee Evans, Sam Morsy, and Joe Williams were the midfield trio, while Kieffer Moore and Gavin Massey were the two strikers.
In this game, Leeds United dominated in possession, with 71%, while Wigan Athletic only had 29%. Leeds had the XG of 1.72 and created a lot of chances but eventually wasted a lot of them. Pablo Hernández, unfortunately, scored an own goal through Wigan’s corner. In essence, the scoreline didn’t match the process of the game.
Leeds United in possession
We will analyse the different stages in Leeds’ offensive approach in this section. First, let’s take a look at playing out from the back. In this game, Leeds United confronted a 3-2 pressing block of Wigan Athletic, which would become a 2-3 pressing block when the ball went to the wide area. The pressing approach focused on creating a compact, strong side.
To tackle this compact pressing block, Leeds United sent four defenders back to circulate possession, using a 4-1 or 4-2 shape. In this stage, their tactics were to pass the ball to one side, instigating the opponent to press and cluster in one compact pressing block. Then they tried to switch the ball to the weak side, where there would be plenty of space and gap to progress the play. If Wigan’s front pressing block shifted fast, Leeds’ back four would try to switch again patiently, waiting for the gaps and channels to be created. Then they would use the channels or gap created to get the play into the next stage. The next image is an illustration of the building-up pattern.
You can see from above that the left-back Alioski was about to receive the ball. Then Wigan’s midfielder pressed Alioski, and Wigan’s pressing block moved to their right flank. When the strong side of Wigan was created, that was the trigger to switch the play. Alioski then one-touch passed back to the left centre-back Cooper. Cooper took the first touch opening his body, facing the right flank and he then passed the ball to White who later picked Ayling, the right-back, as the image is shown below.
So as you can see from above, Wigan’s pressing line was too far from Ayling. Thus, Ayling had the space to dribble and progress the play into the midfield area, bringing the play into the next stage.
Using the above approach, for most of the time, Leeds could successfully escape the front pressure and bring the possession into the next stage. And now let’s see what they do in the penetrating the mid-block stage. Leeds generally used flank to operate their penetrating action, as you can see below, they only used the middle of the pitch for eight times, while using both the flanks 64 times.
As you can see from above, there was a pentagon or a quadrangle unit in the right flank, with two midfielders, a forward, a winger, and a full-back. They tried to combine and overload the right flank, using rotation or third-man run to create the final pass chances and take advantage of the opponent’s huge gap. Now let’s take a look at an example of penetrating the mid-block through the right flank.
In the above scenario, a quadrangle was formed in the right flank. There was a huge gap between the lines while Bamford and Costa were overloading the flank area. Hernández picked Dallas who was situated between the lines, and Bamford made a third-man run to attack the space behind the mid-block defensive line. Then Bambord successfully received the ball, bringing the ball into the ball and shot, which was blocked by the goalkeeper later.
Despite the attack being more focused on the right side, we could see from the previous picture that the right flank attack only produced the XG of 0.27. There were 40 crosses for Leeds in this game, 26 were from the right. However, the accuracy of the right flank crosses was low, with only 23%, compared to the left flank crosses with 30%. This happened because when Leeds tried to build superiority in the right flank, they could achieve it and penetrate the ball into depth.
However, the sticking-to-one-flank approach only required the opponents to shift vertically, not horizontally. Thus there wouldn’t be a lot of horizontal gaps for players to utilise when the cross was released. The opponents just needed to run back to defend the cross, without running horizontally which might create gaps. Let’s see an example.
In this case, Hernández penetrated the gap and picked Costa on the right flank. However, Wigan’s block only needed to move vertically. They recovered fast to the box, running in a straight line. Costa tried to put the ball in the box, but there was no horizontal channel to explore. Wigan’s man cleared the ball away.
Sticking to the right flank superiority didn’t bring most of the chances for Leeds. They created chances also through switching to the weak side tactics, and in this match, it was mostly the left flank. This was effective since, in Wigan’s 5-3-2 formation, the three midfielders weren’t able to cover the width. Thus, with the left-back positioning higher, there would also be superiority on the weak side, the left side.
Once the ball reached the left side from the right, horizontal gaps could be created and explored. And there would be more space and time for the player who was on the ball on the left side. Thus, it would be effective when Leeds switched the play to the left side. They had the XG of 0.71 on the left side. Now let’s take a look at an example.
In this scenario, the ball switched to the left side from the right side. A huge gap in the half-space was created by the switching. Then one midfielder ran into that gap, receiving the ball unmarked. He then delivered a final cross that led to a quality shot.
After discussing the building-up and penetrating phases, we now take a quick look at the finishing part, at which Leeds performed poorly. They had a lot of chances this match but they took none of those. They had 1.72 in XG, 17 shots with 4 on target. It was glaring especially for Bamford, who had 0.85 in XG, 6 shots and 2 on target. For a striker, the efficiency in finishing needs to be improved.
Wigan out of possession
After talking about Leeds’ dominating attacking, now it’s time to have a look at Wigan’s defending. Before the unexpected goal they scored, they stayed in a 5-3-2 defensive shape. After the goal, they dropped one striker to join the midfield line, becoming a 5-4-1. But for most of the time, 5-3-2 was the main shape.
They would press high to force the ball to the side then tried to win the ball, or force Leeds to play long. The midfield trio and two strikers formed a 3-2 or 2-3 block. Two strikers Moore and Massey were defending against the 2 defenders. When the ball was on the flank, a midfielder, Evans or Williams would shift to the side and press. The other two midfielders also moved to create a strong side in the flank, creating a numerical advantage and restricting space, just as the picture below.
In this scenario, Leeds’ centre-back picked the player on the flank. Then Evans the midfielder went and pressed, showing the outside of the pitch. The striker also ran in the curve to eliminate the option of passing back to centre-back. The other midfielder also shifted across to cover and helped. In the end, Wigan forced Leeds to make a mistake in the back.
These tactics worked at the beginning of the match until Leeds started to switch the ball to the weak side. The three-midfielder-line was not enough in providing width and they got tired to shift across the field so often. Thus later they dropped the pressing line and stayed in the mid-block, engaging the opponent in the midfield. However, when defending in the mid-block, they allowed too much space for Leeds to utilise. They kept chasing and failed to make the play predictable. Thus they were not compact enough horizontally without having an intensive pressing. This allowed Leeds to penetrate the midfield and reach the final third very easily, just as the image below shows.
You can see that there were some huge horizontal gaps in Wigan’s midfield line. Leeds’ players could easily choose the direction of the play and one of them penetrated the midfield line with no one pressing.
So for Leeds, it was easy for them to progress the play into the final third. Nevertheless, when the ball went into the final third, especially in the flank area, Wigan’s players would cluster into the box, trying to prevent crosses and any scoring opportunities. Then it was hard for Leeds to find their players in the box since the ball had to pass through so many Wigan’s players, as indicated the image below.
You can see from the image that there were 8-9 Wigan players inside the box to prevent crossing. They built a numeral advantage inside the box, making it hard for Leeds to create scoring chances by using the crossing.
Though Wigan Athletic didn’t do so well in the midblock, they managed to stay on their feet inside the box to try their best to prevent goals. That’s one of the main reasons they didn’t concede the goal.
Wigan’s attacking and Leeds’ defending
Since Wigan only had 29% in possession, there weren’t many stories to tell in terms of Wigan’s attacking and Leeds’ defending. However, there was a clear pattern in Wigan’s attacking. They tried to hit the ball long to reach their tall striker Moore, who held up the play and tried to lay off the ball to his teammates. He had 11 aerial duels and 6 of them were successful. Here is one example.
The goalkeeper hit it long to find Moore. He stepped up to the midfield and tried to win the aerial duel. In the same time, his teammates utilised the space behind and ran towards it. Moore could win aerial duels, but the lacking of attacking players in front made it difficult for Wigan to create a threat.
After seeing the attacking of Wigan, let’s talk about Leeds’ defending. Since they tried to win the ball as fast as possible, they adopted a man-marking approach which allowed their players to press and win the ball immediately. However, sometimes Leeds’ players tackled too recklessly and marked too close. This also left space for Wigan to explore. Let’s see an example.
You can see from the photo that the midfield was almost empty. The ball carrier beat his matchup and there was no one to cover the space in front of the defensive line due to the man-marking approach.
Leeds United showed us their ability in keeping possession and creating chances. Nevertheless, their finishing ability was quite poor. Leeds United will likely play in the Premier League next season. When they face teams like Liverpool and Manchester City, they won’t have so many chances like they had in this match. It’s quite an issue for Marcelo Bielsa to solve in the rest of the season.