Patrick Bamford vs Eddie Nketiah: Leeds United's striker conundrum
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By Richard Graves
Last Updated: 26/10/19 6:08pm
What matters more, the sum of the total parts or the individual? It's a conundrum vexing Leeds United and their head coach Marcelo Bielsa right now.
Currently second in the Championship, no team has a tighter defence than Leeds, who have conceded just eight goals but no team inside the top 10 has scored fewer than Leeds' 17.
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This summer, Leeds agreed a season-long loan deal with Arsenal for promising young striker Eddie Nketiah, but to this point it's Patrick Bamford who has started all 13 league games. However there is growing pressure for something to give after Nketiah again came off the bench on Tuesday night to score a late equaliser at Preston.
That takes his goal tally for club and country this season to 10 goals and five assists in a total of 383 minutes of football for Leeds. Compare that to Bamford who hasn't scored since August and has found the net on only four occasions in 999 minutes.
Bielsa though sees far more than just Bamford's goal return in what he gives to this team and following Tuesday's draw commented: "Bamford is a player who helps to organise the team. The match was tight and we didn't have one player who wasn't playing well."
"The advantage Patrick has is that he's had more time with us, has more experience and he's older. The polemic you're talking about is something the supporters/press like. If Bamford doesn't play, everybody would ask why not. If both play, they'd ask why Klich/Forshaw don not play."
What isn't in doubt is Bielsa's absolute commitment to his footballing philosophy and at Leeds the system and style is crucial to that, but he's also acutely aware of Nketiah's clinical touch in front of goal.
Earlier this week he said: "If he doesn't do well here in Leeds, the responsibility is going to be mine. What I want most is for Nketiah to have success at Leeds, but also I value Bamford, I value him a lot."
Stats alone suggest the contrast is stark but this isn't so simple, Bielsa places an emphasis on work rate, team shape and footballing nouse. That philosophy means only Fulham enjoy greater possession in this division than Leeds but for all associated with the club, the uncomfortable question is, will that be enough to avoid a repeat of last season's playoff heartbreak?
Patrick Bamford and Eddie Nketiah in 2019/20 (all competitions)
|Shots, total (inc. blocks)||46||18|
|Shot conversion rate (inc. blocks)||8.7%||27.8%|
|Expected goals vs Total goals||-4.8||0.8|
Goodman: Bamford in the form of his life
Sky Sports' EFL pundit Don Goodman has offered his views on the debate surrounding Leeds' attacking options, arguing that, despite Bamford's ongoing drought in front of goal, Bielsa's methods have drastically improved him as a player.
He said: "I gave Patrick Bamford man of the match against Derby when they drew 1-1. He was absolutely brilliant and the only thing missing was a goal. That's the thing with his game at the moment. I think he's probably better than he's ever been in his entire career - I think Bielsa has made him a better player than he's ever been. Unfortunately, for Patrick, maybe a bit of confidence in front of goal is what he's lacking at the moment.
"He's playing the best football of his career. His touch is good, he's working and this is key to how Leeds play. His work-rate is phenomenal and we all felt that once they lost Kemar Roofe that something would be taken away from how Leeds play in terms of he was always the first person to start the press. To be fair to Bamford, he's taken that mantle on and he's doing it just as well as Roofe used to do it.
"Bielsa has got him fitter, got him working harder. If that is the issue with Eddie Nketiah, it's a very easy one to solve. The bottom line is that he's been at Leeds long enough to see how they play, how Bamford plays and what Bielsa wants from him. It's not very difficult to up your work-rate if that's what's required."
In a lengthy rant during his pre-match press conference earlier this week, Bielsa backed his decision to keep Bamford at the spearhead of his attack, but Goodman warned that the Leeds boss is treading a fine line between benefitting his side and limiting Nketiah's development.
He added: "Every time Nketiah gets a chance - or even a half-chance - he believes he's going to find the back of the net and, invariably, he does. That's the difference between them at the moment - their conversion rate. Nketiah is absolutely ruthless and has taken a high percentage of the chances that have come his way
"I think he's has been remarkably patient but I think he does need to play sooner rather than later from the start because if he doesn't then Leeds United will lose him and I don't think there's any question about that. You can't send a player on loan, if you are a club like Arsenal, and not have him get minutes.
"If you have a look at what minutes did for Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Fikayo Tomori and Reece James, I would be supremely confident in saying that, had they not had a year on loan last season, they probably wouldn't be the players they are today, playing in the Chelsea first team.
"It may just be that he feels he's more effective coming from the bench at this precise moment in time. But the longer it goes with Bamford not scoring, Nketiah coming on and scoring important, point-winning goals, then the outcome is inevitable."