Fresh from promotion to the Premier League, Leeds United seem to have a squad that is rearing to go to the top flight, with good quality players in every position and a great manager to boot – Marcelo Bielsa. However, the enigma that is Patrick Bamford is a heated point of debate regarding his quality as a striker and how he fits in Bielsa’s side. After Arsenal loanee Eddie Nketiah arrived, he was set to replace Bamford is the target man. But after an injury to Nketiah, Bamford picked up the role of the attacking talisman and has stayed there ever since.
In this tactical analysis, I will attempt to make a scout report about Bamford’s playing style and how he fits into Marcelo Bielsa’s tactics. We will also make an analysis into why he has been lacking this season as a striker for a Championship winning team.
Patrick Bamford has come across a lot of criticism for this part of his play. So far this season, Patrick Bamford has scored 16 goals this season so far. This puts him at eighth for top scorer of the league and while this is decent, there is still a lot to that story. For this season, Patrick Bamford’s xG is a whopping 34.77. This shows how underwhelming he is in terms of being clinical. To break down that statistic, Patrick Bamford was expected to score around 35 goals this season but scored only 16 goals. Bamford also attempts the fourth-most shots on goal in the league, taking 3.25 shots per game. Considering that he plays a high number of minutes, and the team around him sets him up for a lot of shots, his finishing is deserving of the blame. Now we shall look at an individual breakdown of his shots.
The shot map below shows all the shots that Bamford has taken and the distribution of the position of shots and their outcomes.
As we can see, Bamford takes most of his shots in the 18-yard box but scores very little. This is because Leeds United play out from the wide for most parts of the attack, but Bamford remains at the centre of the pitch, waiting for crosses from the wide players like Jack Harrison or Helder Costa. An example of this can be seen below.
Pablo Hernandez cuts inside from a wide position higher up the pitch. He acts as a goalscoring threat here and draws the defenders and goalkeepers towards him. This leaves a lot of space for Bamford, who can comfortably head the ball in and score. Bamford is aided well by his physique. He stands tall at 1.85 metres and is therefore good at holding up the ball, an attribute we will analyse in detail.
Bamford is instructed by Bielsa to not take a lot of time on the ball, and thus, most of his goals come from first-time finishes.
Bamford plays as the archetypal number 9: making important runs, holding up the ball, and taking shots as the lone striker. The only point in shooting where he needs improvement would be his finishing. When observing Bamford play, it is evident that he lacks a bit of composure in the box and is weak at decision-making when needing to shoot. He sometimes takes hard shots aiming to blast the ball into the back of the net, when in reality, he has time to compose himself and produce better output.
Bamford in Build-up
We have seen that Bamford is not great at finishing, but there is a key reason as to why he starts over Tyler Roberts, and why Bielsa was comfortable in selling Kemar Roofe – a great finisher at the Championship level. This is because Bamford is the pivot in Marcelo Bielsa’s attacking tactics. Bamford is a hard-working individual who is experienced at the Championship level and plays with high intensity when called to action.
Due to his physical attributes, Patrick Bamford is very good at holding up the ball and is strong physically. This allows him to create space for himself and allow team-mates to make runs behind him and find themselves in space.
When in the build-up, Bamford drops deep and collects the ball, keeps the ball with him, and finds good passing options to the other players like Hernandez or Klich who get a goalscoring opportunity.
As Bamford is left-footed, he prefers to play on the central or right-hand side of the pitch. The example above is no exception. Bamford drops deep into the right side of the pitch and receives the ball. He is subjected to the intense press of his opposition defenders and holds up the ball well. He dribbles past both defenders with his pace and finds himself in a lot of space. This gives him a lot of space and can then make a decisive pass to the central midfielders.
Bielsa is well-known for his speed in attacking plays. This involves one-touch passes and overlaps from the attacking full-backs and the wingers. As we previously mentioned, Bamford goes from becoming the pivot of Leeds’ attack to being the target man of the side, and so takes a lot of one-touch finishes. Another important instruction of Bielsa’s when playing in the 3-3-1-3 is for Bamford to take fewer touches on the ball when passing. These one-touch passes allow for quick interchanging plays that result in goalscoring opportunities.
An important link-up for Bamford is with the enganche. The role of the enganche involves player mobility, good vision, and tactical awareness. To Bielsa, the enganche is important as he dictates the play: where the ball moves towards and who gets the ball.
Hernandez is the enganche in this case. Bamford runs in from his preferred right wing and faces two defenders. Hernandez falls between the half-spaces to collect the pass from Bamford. Bielsa’s quick passing play system comes under-display here, as Bamford passes to Hernandez, who takes one touch and gets the ball to Bamford. Bamford then passes the ball into the box with one-touch as well.
This is another area that Patrick Bamford excels in: defensive contributions. While strikers are not expected to be great defenders, Marcelo Bielsa prefers attackers that can press and recover the ball high up the pitch to create scoring opportunities from a better position. Bielsa follows the Cruyffian school of thought, where the attacker is the first defender. Thus, in this team, Bamford is expected to press the opponent and get the ball back to hit the opponent on the counter.
There is a lot to digest in this picture, so we will break it down. Leeds employ a mix of a man-marking and zonal marking system. While they specifically try to mark a man by getting close to them, the Leeds players also mark a specific zone of the pitch to close down any passes. This is one of the reasons as to why they have the lowest PPDA (Passes per Defensive Actions) in the league.
Bamford’s role in this press is important. When the goalkeeper distributes the ball to the first defender, Bamford activates his high-intensity press. We can see the system in play. The players take the man closest to them to limit the distribution options and force the opponent to go long. Here, Bamford approaches his opponent diagonally from the back and cuts off a passing lane to the goalkeeper. The only two options for the defender on the ball is to pass to the side or clear the ball. As Bamford knows this, he positions himself to run down and chase the other defender that is open. This smart angles placement and tactical knowledge in defence aid Bielsa’s tactics tremendously.
Bamford’s importance defensively is unmistakable. The one game that he missed due to injury is their narrow 5-4 win against Birmingham, where Leeds won due to an own-goal from the dying minutes of the game. There was also another game where he was substituted off was against Cardiff, where Leeds threw away a 3-1 lead and drew 3-3 after Bamford was replaced with Nketiah.
While Bamford has been the main striker in Bielsa’s side for this season, Andrea Radrizzani, the owner of Leeds United, has hinted on signing Edinson Cavani on a free transfer this season from PSG. This will give Bamford stiff competition as Cavani is similar to Bamford in terms of attributes, but is better at Bamford in those attributes and plays at a higher level to him. If Bamford improves on attributes like finishing, he will be competitive at the Premier League level.
In this scout report, we have seen Bamford’s strengths and weaknesses and where Bamford excels in terms of pressing and hold-up play, and his weaknesses in terms of finishing. If he improves upon his skills and retains his strengths, he can become a good striker in the Premier League level, with great service around him and in a great tactical setup like Leeds United.