Fantasy Premier League managers may have to wait and see whether a cast-iron attacking asset emerges from Leeds’ ranks in 2020/21.
Marcelo Bielsa’s men certainly have a wealth of talent going forward but in a team where the goals and assists are spread around and the centre-forward is somewhat wasteful, it may be difficult to pin down one key individual to invest in initially.
What is Leeds’ goal-scoring potential?
“Brentford are considered a high-scoring, attractive, creative, buccaneering outfit and United only scored three fewer goals all season in the Championship. Naturally, there are always what-ifs about how sides will transition from the second tier and it is impossible for me to accurately predict whether they will score plenty or struggle to do so. It has to be said, United are wasteful. If they tucked away the chances they should have done in 19/20, they would have scored closer to 100 goals than the 77 they ended with. The problem has been finishing and, as the striker, Patrick Bamford has carried the can among many fans.” – Beren Cross
For 95 per cent of the season, United have been faced with deep-lying, defensive set-ups which are happy to camp in their own box and ask the Whites to break them down. That will not be the case in the top flight. Teams will attack United and they have shown, when the opportunity arises, they are deadly on the counter.
This insight from the front-lines carries a specific warning for Fantasy managers to bide their time before investing too heavily in the Leeds attack next season.
While they might benefit from more space to exploit, it does seem evident that Bielsa may have to encourage better finishing among his players. Remember, unlike Norwich, they are not coming into the Premier League armed with a reliable 25+ goal-a-season striker. In this team, the goals are spread around a little bit more, something that Fantasy managers are less keen on.
|Title Win||Club||GF (title-winning season)||Ranking||GF (first PL season)||% change|
|AVG = 80.2||AVG = 40||AVG = -49.6%|
The Whites’ 77 goals last season was the second-highest in the Championship, just three short of a free-scoring Brentford outfit. A feat not be scoffed at. However, it does represent the first time the title-winner did not also top the scoring charts since Cardiff in 2012/13. That total is also just below the division’s average for the last 10 teams to finish in the top spot.
If we were to feed Leeds’ total of 77 goals into the average percentage decrease of Championship winners in their first top-flight campaign immediately afterwards, we get a figure of 38.1. For some context, that equates to fewer goals than Sheffield United (39) and Bournemouth’s (40) tallies for 2019/20 although one of those teams nearly qualified for Europe and the other was relegated.
How much that counts for does remain to be seen, of course. Norwich went up with the second-highest Championship goal-tally of the last decade but ended up with the worst of any of them in the following Premier League campaign, with a measly total of 26.
A lot will, of course, depend on how other teams set up against Leeds, partly why biding our team seems sensible. As Beren mentioned, there could be more space to exploit for the Whites, but it is too soon to say.
If that were to be the case, away goals could be an area that Leeds look to target. After all, playing teams on their own turf usually opens the door a little more to counter-attacking sides.
Bielsa’s men scored 37 times on the road last season, more than any other side in the Championship and backed up by their ability to hit teams on the break.
They were no slouches at home either, finding the net 40 times at Elland Road, an impressive tally considering how many teams set up with deep lines when travelling to West Yorkshire. Only Brentford and West Bromwich Albion (44 each) scored more times in home matches.
- Position: Central attacking midfielder
- Starts: 27
- Substitute apps: 9
- Goals: 9
- Assists: 9
“Naturally, the obvious asset at first glance is Pablo Hernandez after another Player of the Year triumph with nine goals and nine assists in the title-winning campaign. However, now 35, Hernandez’s minutes have become more and more managed by Marcelo Bielsa. If he is fit and the fixtures are not too congested, the Spaniard will be a very safe and astute selection, depending on his price. However, he did only make 27 starts in a 46-match season last time out.” – Beren Cross
Pablo Hernández has been a much-discussed asset in the Fantasy community since Leeds’ promotion was confirmed but it is interesting to see Beren pour some cold water on any forming bandwagon.
That is not to say the central midfielder won’t be a regular starter but there are still a few ‘ifs’ to consider ahead of the new season.
There are lots of things to like about the former Swansea man, considering his perfect balance of goal threat and creativity.
Last season, his total of 74 shots was bested only by three other players while only two colleagues managed to produce more goal attempts in the penalty area than him (38). Those numbers are especially impressive when you consider that Hernández played just 2,502 minutes in 2019/20, 10 Leeds players spending more time on the pitch than that on the way to the title.
For that reason, Hernández’s 82 key passes and 13 big chances also indicate how productive he can be when handed minutes considering only Jack Harrison managed more in each department than that.
However, the ‘ifs’ begin with set-plays, which Hernández does not have much of a monopoly over compared to the architect of other teams. In 2019/20 it was defensive midfielder Kalvin Phillips who took the bulk of these, firing in 227 corners to Hernández’s 51 while Harrison was also responsible for a further 44.
The former Swansea man did take five direct free-kicks on the way to the title but, again, it was Phillips who assumed the responsibility most often with a total of nine.
The defensive midfielder does have special set-play pedigree but one of the reasons why Hernández cannot quite compete with him for them is as a result of the aforementioned management of minutes.
The Spaniard picked up a knock ahead of the first Project Restart fixture against Cardiff which meant he only started twice during the final nine matches of the campaign, his more advanced central role often handed to Tyler Roberts during this period.
Hernández emerged as a substitute on six occasions following his return to fitness, replacing Roberts in all but one of these, so there is not necessarily any suggestion he is set to lose his place to the Welsh international any time soon.
But the way the 35-year-old finished 2019/20 is certainly an indication of the factors Fantasy managers must be aware of as it meant he contributed to just 23.4% of Leeds Championship goals.
Because of these considerations, it is hard to describe Hernández as quite as much of a talisman as a Grealish or the like, the sort of player you can be confident will start every single match without fail. That surety will be there if he’s fit and the fixture schedule is kind but, at this stage, neither one of those is completely guaranteed.
Five players registered more assists than him in the Championship, including West Bromwich Albion’s key man Matheus Pereira.
- Position: Winger
- Starts: 45
- Substitute apps: 1
- Goals: 6
- Assists: 8
“Jack Harrison is worth investigating. Heading into his third consecutive year-long spell at Elland Road, Harrison is on an upward curve and improved massively in his second campaign under Bielsa. He delivered six goals and eight assists from out wide and, barring injury, will almost certainly start every week.” – Beren Cross
Fantasy managers could consider the more advanced attacking asset in Harrison, who largely finds himself stationed on the left-wing.
Much like what we saw with Luke Ayling and Stuart Dallas, Harrison is the more assured starter who offers slightly less according to the underlying statistics.
That is not to suggest the Manchester City loanee is a bad option. As already mentioned above, Harrison finished 2019/20 top of the charts for key passes (87) and big chances created (17) among Leeds players.
He was also the best of the rest for efforts on goal outside of centre-forward Bamford, registering a total of 78 shots, 61 in the box and 16 big chances, second-best in each of those categories.
However, Harrison shoulders some responsibility for Leeds’ wastefulness in front of goal last season. Despite lofty ranks for the volume of shots, four Leeds players managed more shots on target than 23-year-old.
- Position: Central midfielder
- Starts: 45
- Substitute apps: 0
- Goals: 6
- Assists: 5
“Mateusz Klich is another who is likely to start every match. The Pole’s streak of 92 consecutive league starts was ended by Bielsa in the penultimate match of 19/20 after some exuberant celebrations. Klich delivered six goals, five assists and might be on penalties next term.” – Beren Cross
Klich’s importance to the team is also in his favour considering he is a solid contributor to Leeds’ attacks.
Bamford, Harrison and Dallas are the only team-mates to have shot more times en route to Championship glory than the Polish international (76).
Most of Klich’s efforts came from outside of the penalty area (52.6%) but he was still in the top three Leeds players for shots on target (24).
He was also third for key passes (79) and big chances created (11).
On top of that, Klich took three penalties in 2019/20, the same number as Bamford, assuming responsibility for the only one Leeds were awarded post-lockdown, hence why he is the current favourite.
- Position: Striker
- Starts: 43
- Substitute apps: 2
- Goals: 16
- Assists: 2
It perhaps says something about Leeds’ array of attacking options that we come to their centre-forward so late in the list.
While Bamford had a hand in the joint-highest number of goals this season, his total of 18 attacking returns, level with Hernández, still only counts for 23.4% of Leeds overall tally.
He is also the chief culprit when it comes to assessing the chances the Whites failed to score on their way to the Championship title.
His tally of 128 shots in the box was the highest of any player in the division and yet Bamford still finished the 2019/20 campaign 10 goals shy of the Championship’s joint-top scorers in Aleksandar Mitrovic and Ollie Watkins (both 26). He was also 13 goals shy of the previous season’s Golden Boot winner Teemu Pukki, who netted 29 times in the Championship.
In total, the centre-forward was afforded 44 big chances but he only put 10 of those away, spurning the other 34 (77.3%).
For some context, the five worst Premier League players for big chances missed in 2019/20 were Diogo Jota (12), Jay Rodriguez (12), Michail Antonio (14), David McGoldrick (15) and Roberto Firmino (20). Those players, admittedly played a shorter campaign, but only six matches, while Bamford was playing in the best team in the division.
If Bamford is to truly cut it in the top-flight and offer Fantasy managers a reliable stream of attacking returns, some improvement in this area is sorely needed. Up to this point, he has scored just one Premier League goal in 27 appearances at that level.
It is no secret that Leeds need some competition for Bamford but the former Middlesbrough man will surely be handed first dibs at leading the line in the Premier League based on Bielsa’s management style.
“Bielsa only tends to change the team for suspensions and injuries, even during poor runs of form. They are so fit, fatigue is rarely an issue. The aforementioned Bamford would go 10 matches without a goal in the Championship and not be dropped, much to many fans’ dismay. However, Bielsa is loyal and his players run through brick walls for him.” – Beren Cross
An important member of the team, Kalvin Phillips offers more than the usual defensive midfielder considering that he takes Leeds’ corners and free-kicks. This, of course, is another detraction from Hernández’s credentials and may only count for Fantasy appeal if Phillips comes in kindly priced.
Helder Costa is another relatively secure starter for the new season, traditionally operating on the right-hand side of midfield. While he is the opposite number to Harrison, the former Wolves man did not quite match his colleague’s attacking returns totals for 2019/20, scoring four goals and assisting another four, the same as right-back Luke Ayling, with whom he usually shares a flank.
As already mentioned, Tyler Roberts was the central midfielder who played when Hernandez needed his game-time managed. In 1,086 minutes he managed four goals and one assist, although that still only works out at an attacking return every 217.2 minutes.
Ezgjan Alioski registered five goals and three assists from 2,253 minutes which is solid if not spectacular. However, his role across the campaign was one of impact substitute, 21 of his 39 appearances coming from the start and 18 from the bench.
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