QPR and Leeds United faced each other in the EFL Championship at Loftus Road in a match with plenty of tactical analysis to review. Everyone in the league has high expectations of the innovative tactics in Marcelo Bielsa’s team, Leeds United. Marcelo Bielsa, who was previously a manager in Ligue 1, made Leeds United one of the favourites for promotion to the EPL. On the other hand, QPR, a mid-table team, wanted to prove that they could be better than this. This match analysis showed that QPR could be a tough opponent for anyone to win.
QPR’s manager, Mark Warburton chose the 4-2-3-1 formation. Liam Kelly was under the posts. Conor Masterson and Grant Hall were the two centre backs, while Lee Wallace and Todd Kane were the left and right full-backs respectively. Geoff Cameron and Luke Amos were the two defensive midfielders. Eberechi Eze and Bright Osayi Samuel were the two wide attacking midfielders, and Ilias Chair was the attacking midfielder. Nahki Wells was the centre forward and managed to score the winning goal of the match.
Leeds United’s manager, Marcelo Bielsa, preferred not to make changes in the shape formation despite the home loss to Sheffield Wednesday. He chose once again his favourite formation in this season, the 4-1-4-1. Kiko Casilla was under the posts. Liam Cooper and Ben White were the two centre backs and next to them were Stuart Dallas as a left full-back and Luke Ayling as a right full-back. Kalvin Phillips was the defensive midfielder and in front of him, the two centre midfielders were Pablo Hernandez and Mateusz Klich. On the wings were Helder Costa and Jack Harrison. Patrick Bamford was the centre forward of Leeds United in an unfortunate matchday for him, as he wasted many chances to score, including a penalty kick.
QPR off the ball
QPR without the ball pressed high and tried to block the build-up of Leeds United’s goalkeeper and centre-backs. With the 4-2-3-1 formation, they were pressing high in the final third with three players: the centre forward, who was Wells, and with Chair and Osayi-Samuel, who were the attacking and the right attacking midfielder, respectively.
They were creating a triangle between them, where Chair, the attacking midfielder was deeper than the other two. Their job was to restrict the pass from Leeds United’s goalkeeper to the centre-backs, White and Cooper, and the defensive midfielder, Phillips.
That tactic’s result was for the goalkeeper, Kiko Casilla, and the centre-backs, White and Cooper, to try more long balls than usual to the middle third of the field. This was something that QPR wanted to happen as they would prefer some aerial challenges in the midfield area and not the quality passing game that Leeds United can show. Leeds United didn’t have the player who could link the defensive line with the attacking line in the game, who was Phillips, so the defensive line tried to approach the centre forward with long balls.
The main problem for them was that Bamford was isolated and outnumbered as he did not have any support from his teammates. That led to the centre-backs of QPR, Hall and Masterson, winning most of the challenges in that space against the Leeds United’s centre forward, Bamford.
The next thing that QPR tried to do to restrict the quality of Leeds United when they were in possession was to put pressure instantly on the player that had possession of the ball in a transition moment. The players were closing down their opponents in those areas where they could. In that way, they managed to restrict Leeds United’s attempts to play their possession game.
Moreover, because of the high pressure, the players of Leeds United usually were just giving away the ball with long passes. Therefore, QPR had the chance to regain possession of the ball either from a challenge in the midfield area or from the pressing that they were doing high up the field. Both scenarios would be helpful for QPR as they would regain possession of the ball and their players would already be in a high position on the pitch.
The different philosophies of QPR
Overall, QPR had a conservative approach in the whole game. Their full-backs were not so active in the offensive game. They were supporting the wide attacking midfielders but most of the time without over or underlapping them. They were there for a backward supportive pass. QPR were looking for the wide attacking midfielders, Osayi-Samuel and Eze. QPR had a direct approach in the whole game and based its game on these two players because of their speed and high technical ability. These gave them a great advantage in 1 v 1 situations. They managed to cause a lot of trouble in the defensive areas of Leeds United and there were times when they could cope in situations where they were outnumbered.
A simple example to realise the ability of those players in such scenarios could be when Osayi Samuel, the right attacking midfielder, received the ball in the midfield area and managed to carry it without any support and against two or three opponents up to the edge of the opponent’s box, where he won a foul in a 3 v 1 situation, from which the goal for QPR came.
The second philosophy that QPR chose against Leeds United was after they scored their goal. They tried to protect their advantage and create a more compact shape. They needed a deeper positioning for some of the players to help the formation to become more compact. For that reason, the two wide attacking midfielders were stepping back and were trying to support the defensive line, especially the full-backs that had to deal with the high and wide positioning of Helder Costa and Ayling. In this way, QPR were trying to have an extra player for the defensive part of the game and gain advantages on the flanks. That was a solution for QPR in dealing with the continuous high positioning that the full-backs of Leeds United were taking in the field.
Both wide attacking midfielders were supporting the defensive line, but it was mostly Eze who had a deeper position in the field. The role of his partner in the flanks, Osayi-Samuel, was to receive the long balls from the defence and start the counter-attacks. Osayi-Samuel had a higher and wider position on the field and tried to create some chances from counter-attacks. QPR’s game approach did not change as far as the direct style of play went.
Once they regained possession of the ball they were trying to have a quick offensive transition and look for Osayi-Samuel, who is a player with exceptional technical abilities and can be very threatening in the open field and 1 v 1 situations. Moreover, Osayi-Samuel could take advantage of the high positioning of the opponent’s full-backs and find even more free spaces.
Leeds United wanted to put pressure on their opponent and for that reason, they waited for them high up the pitch and tried to limit their options to build up the game. Moreover, they managed to put intensive pressure on their opponent not only in the final third but also in the middle third, where support was coming from the defensive line. The centre-backs were supporting when it was necessary to press in the midfield area. This was a way for Leeds United to increase the level of the pressure with extra players from different areas and to overload specific areas of the field.
It is worth mentioning that despite the high pressure, QPR found a way to break the lines of Leeds United. This is because Leeds United did not manage to have the right balance between their lines. That was a mistake from them which created free space at the back and made them vulnerable, because in moments when they were focusing on high pressure on the pitch and were trying to regain possession of the ball in an advantageous position, the opponent found free space and managed to put the ball between the lines of Leeds United. This is because of the central midfielder, Klich, taking a high position on the field and creating an imbalance between the lines.
Here is an example of the game where QPR took advantage of the free space and managed to break the lines of Leeds United. Initially, the left wide attacking midfielder of QPR, Eze (number 10) came deep to support the game. That brought an extra player into the area that Leeds United had to adjust to. The right full-back of QPR, Kane (number 2), instead of going wide and “locking” his team in the opponent’s trap, he stepped into the middle third of the field behind Leeds United’s left-winger, Harrison (number 22). Kane took advantage of the free space between the lines caused by the bad positioning of Klich.
Leeds United were attacking more from the right side of the field and this can be proven by the average positioning of the players. Leeds United had 29 attacks from the right flank and 30 in total from the central part of the field and the left flank. This is because the right full-back of Leeds United, Ayling (number 2), was in a high position on the field, supporting the right-winger, Helder Costa.
Also, Ayling and Helder Costa had the support of their teammates, either from a central midfielder or from the centre forward, who was coming out of the box to overload the area. The result for Leeds United was that they could exploit Ayling and Costa’s exceptional combined ability that helps the team.
In the picture on the left side, you can see the average positions of the Leeds United players. If we split the field into two pieces, we can see how they were overloading their right side with five players (strong side), while there was just one on the other side (weak side) of the field. Furthermore, that situation led them to have many advantages in the flanks.
Moreover, Leeds United’s overloading of the right side of the field created free space for the full-back and left-winger on the other side. We could say that this was a kind of trick. Leeds United’s players were overloading the right flank and did outnumber the opposition. QPR, to balance that situation, focused more on their left side by supporting it with extra players, as they thought there was no threat from the other side.
That was the time for Leeds United players to deliver the ball into the far post where Harrison and the left full-back (Alioski or Dallas) were arriving with speed to take advantage of the free space. Leeds United had many chances like those and their expected goals rating was high (2.84 xG) in the game, but their players did not manage to put the ball in the net.
Leeds United tried to exploit the opponent’s flanks several times by making long diagonal balls. If we break this down and analyse the formation that QPR used, we can easily understand why they chose this. In a 4-2-3-1 formation, we notice how compact they are in the central parts of the field. The two centre-backs get support from the two deep centre midfielders. In that way, and especially with a formation with a centre forward or with an attacking midfielder, we realise how tough it would be for that player to try to control the ball in the box with four opponents.
The area that the formation could have weaknesses is the flanks and this is because of the natural distance that the wide attacking midfielders have from the full-backs. Therefore, Leeds United tried to exploit these areas and this is the reason why they were making many diagonal long balls to those positions.
QPR should be satisfied with this victory against a strong opponent like Leeds United. Marcelo Bielsa and his coaching staff should be upset about the loss, and the lost chances that their team wasted. Losses like these can harm the team’s attempts at promotion to the EPL. One thing that Marcelo Bielsa should be happy about in this performance must be the frequency of the chances that the team created and the domination that they managed to achieve on the flanks of the field.
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