West Ham at Leeds: The Inside Track on the Whites

Former West Ham captain and current West Ham coach Kevin Nolan. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
Former West Ham captain and current West Ham coach Kevin Nolan. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images) /

West Ham look to get back to winning ways as they head to Elland Road to face off against Leeds United for the first time since 2012.

While Leeds United sit below West Ham in the table at 14th, the Hammers will be unable to take their opponent lightly. GSH spoke to Leeds fan Jon Mackenzie from All Stats Aren’t We to discuss this year’s Leeds side as well as the upcoming match against the Irons this Friday.

1. What are the origins of All Stats Aren’t We? When did it start and how did you become involved? What type of content do you produce and how is your channel unique?

JM: ASAW was founded at the very end of the 18/19 season after realizing there was a bit of a niche in the Leeds United media space. Basically, I wanted to hear more discussion of the tactical and statistical side of Leeds United’s game not least because Marcelo Bielsa had made us interesting to watch again.

The first podcast episode we put out was an end of season review which was a conversation between Jamie Kemp of LUFC Blog and myself. It’s come on a long way since then.

Firstly, I brought Josh Hobbs in as my right-hand man to help out and he basically helped me transform ASAW into what it is today. After the lockdown last season, we also brought in Darren “Derek” Driver, Tom Woodhead, Tom Alderson and Joe Hill as regulars on our weekly shows and that’s the team.

We also run a Patreon site where people can get bonus podcasts as well as written and video content. It seems pretty popular so things are going well!

2. Leeds United are in the Premier League for the first time since 2004. For a fan that has not followed the Championship in recent years, describe this Leeds team’s style of play.

JM: How long have you got… we could talk about this for hours!

I like to split the stylistic elements of Bielsa’s Leeds into two parts: “on the ball” and “off the ball”.

On the ball, Bielsa uses what is called “positional play” to get an attacking edge. This sounds complicated but it simply means he tries to use player movement to get overloads across the pitch to help the team move the ball (and the players) into attacking positions. We all know how fluid Leeds are in attack and that is all down to Bielsa and his positional play.

Off the ball, Bielsa uses a unique man-marking system to stop opponents from scoring. But because his team play high possession football and try to hold onto the ball in the opponent’s half, they need to marry this man-marking system with an aggressive press if the ball is turned over.

This buys Leeds’ time to fall into a defensive structure and helps individuals to find the player they’re responsible for marking.

Put these together and you have Bielsa’s unique style of football.

3. Given the long hiatus from the top level of English football, how frustrating has it been to be unable to see Leeds live at Elland Road?

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JM: The inability for any football fan to watch their football team in person is frustrating for anyone but you’re right – the sixteen-year wandering in the wilderness deserved a glorious return for Leeds fans. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before the stadium is filled and Leeds fans get to enjoy the well-earned entertainment offered by the Premier League.

4. Only Liverpool, Everton and Southampton have had more goals scored in the matches they’ve been involved in than Leeds. Why do you think so many goals have been scored in Leeds United matches?

Leeds play an open style of football. They play on the front foot. They look to attack. And there are potential weaknesses in a man-marking system. Put simply, Bielsa thinks that possessing the ball and attacking are the best ways of indirectly defending. Leeds score more than they would if they sat back. But they concede more. The result is pretty entertaining football with lots of goals.

5. Overall, it’s been a good start for Leeds. What do you think has been the key to the team’s success so far?

Marcelo Bielsa: pure and simple. His brand of football means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Add to that, Patrick Bamford coming into the form of his life and Leeds look well worth their position in the table.

6. I am assuming the goal for Leeds fans before the season was to simply survive and stay in the Premier League. Given the good start to the campaign, is that still the goal? Or have expectations been raised?

No, this is still the goal. I’m pessimistic enough to not get carried away. The most important table I’ve been keeping an eye on is the bottom half table: the table which only takes into account teams who could plausibly go down this season.

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So far, Leeds are performing well in this mini-league suggesting they’ll be fine by the end of the season. But we’re injury-riddled at the moment so never say never.

7. What is the main weak spot Leeds have that West Ham could exploit on Friday?

David Moyes will know that Leeds are susceptible to teams who sit deep, absorb pressure and decompress quickly on the counter-attack. With players like Jarred Bown and Said Benrahma in the front line – players who Leeds fans know all too well from the Championship – there is always the possibility that West Ham could give us problems in transition.

8. As a Leeds fan, what scares you about this current West Ham side that has started the season very well?

Probably one of those two players. Obviously, Benrahma has yet to make a league start for you but no doubt he’ll be coming off the bench for you. In the past, Leeds have contained Benrahma fairly well. But Jarred Bowen has perennially caused us problems coming inside from wide.

9. Who has been the Leeds’ player of the year been so far?

It’s hard to say: probably one of Pat Bamford, Mateusz Klich, Luke Ayling or our goalkeeper, Illan Meslier, who has been making headlines with his wild shot-stopping antics in net.

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10. Prediction?

I hate giving predictions. I prefer guessing the flow of the game. Leeds will try to keep the ball. West Ham will try to counter-attack. It’ll be a one-goal margin whichever way this one goes, I think.