Leeds United boss Daniel Farke rejects Leicester City gameplan suggestion as broadcasters rub hands
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Two big clubs, two big recently-relegated and promotion-hungry clubs at that. And then there's a stylistic match up to get the highlight-chasing broadcasters slavering at the chops. Enzo Maresca's Leicester want to hog the ball and so too do Daniel Farke's Leeds United. The Foxes boast a potent attacking line-up and score lots of goals and so too do Leeds. Each side has in-form players capable of producing match-winning magic and Sky will have their fingers crossed that it's a goalfest, despite Leicester's stingy defensive record thus far in the Championship. At the very least both of these teams should be able to create a number of chances and with the counter-attacking talent on display there's a chance that an end-to-end transitional whirlwind might break out from time to time.
Given Leicester's relentless form, an almost perfect set of results that has opened up a 14-point lead over the Whites and rendered them very much the underdogs for Friday's clash, might Farke be tempted to act accordingly when it comes to his tactical approach? After all, no one in the division has scored more goals on the counter attack than Leeds. Their frontline is built for transition, with speed and skill that can whisk play from one end to the other in the blink of an eye and exploit or create space in order to do maximum damage.
What chance, then, Leeds will sit in, absorb pressure and look to hit their league-leading hosts on the break? "No," replied Farke, quite simply, before adding a little more context, "our approach will never be that we just park the bus and put the ball in the stand or over the stand and try to be there with a counter attack from 90-yards or a three times deflected striker, getting lucky off an opponent's goalkeeper.
"No, we want to attack the games and be the protagonist. This will always be our approach, we are Leeds United, we want to do this wherever we go and wherever we play. It’s still important to be good on the counter attack because you have to be good in all periods and phases of the game, and if you want to be successful against a top side, you have to expect they will have a lot of possession and you have to be rock solid in your structure and then also you need to use counter attacks.
"When I think about the last game against Huddersfield, we dominated the second half with I I think 80 per cent possession. You literally can’t have more than we had but we were capable of creating chances out of each and every possible situation in the game. We were good on the counter attack, the build up, we created chances through the centre, the wings, we want to use each and every tool to create and score. One of our strengths is quick counter attacks, but not just after winning the ball in our box and going 100 yards, we are also quite strong when we win the ball in the opponent's half and have a quick but short counter attack. This is definitely also something we want to use but it is important to rock solid in defending and use our winnings of the ball. We want to use counter attacks, and in the game against Leicester City, definitely."
Farke's Leeds United, just like Marcelo Bielsa's Leeds United, will set out to be the protagonists in each and every game, but the same can be said for Maresca's men. Jordan Blackwell reports on the Foxes for the Leicester Mercury and says having the football at their feet is, unsurprisingly, central to the strategy for Pep Guardiola's former assistant. "Their gameplan is very much based on controlling possession, they've averaged 63 per cent this season," Blackwell told the YEP. "The defence will try to push high to squeeze the pitch and keep the pressure on. Sometimes they'll push Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall forward to join the striker in pressing high. But they tinker all the time based on where they think the pressure will be. So lots of teams in recent weeks have targeted Harry Winks and Ricardo Pereira in the centre and tried to restrict them, so they've played the ball out to the wingers more often, with Stephy Mavididi on the left and Abdul Fatawu on the right stationed really wide."
How Leeds deal with that width, particularly when Farke's wingers can be found so narrow at times, will be just one of the keys to winning the arm wrestle for control in possession. Showing courage in how they go after Leicester in an attempt to disrupt and dispossess the home side is something Farke sees as pivotal and as he points out, they want the ball in order to do something important with it, not just to possess it.
"Bravery - it’s also important to be brave enough to press the opponent and not to be too impressed with them," said the German.
"It’s also not that we want to win the possession statistics and it is the same for them. It should help, we are not playing with so much possession just to win the statistic, it has to benefit us and lead us because it’s the best way to have the chance to win the game, because as long as you have the ball the opponent can’t score. As long as you have the ball, you exhaust the opponent because they have to shift, and nobody likes to play football to run after the ball, you play because you want to have the ball. If you don’t have stupid own goals, then when you have the ball the opponent can’t score. It increases your chances to win the game but it is also important not to lose the focus on the most important topic which is to win the game."
The pretty stuff like the one-touch passing moves, step overs, flicks, tricks and nutmegs that flair players will look to produce under the lights at the King Power Stadium is what neutrals want to see and Farke will doubtless relish all of that if his men are responsible and it leads to something tangible. What he's calling for alongside it, though, is a dogged determination to dig in when Leicester do inevitably have their moments.
"There will be, on such a level, periods where you find it difficult to press them, to stay in possession, and you have to be there with well structured defending," he said.
"If I’m honest each and every game, the topic is you need periods where you have to defend rock solidly and in this game even more. There will be periods where you need to suffer a bit and show great heart and the will to suffer, and accept the opponent is strong and will have periods of possession, but then to make the most of your possession. There’s never a guarantee you will dominate like we did against our last opponent in the second half but one key is to be there with as much possession as possible."
Two exciting sides, lots of technically gifted players and just one football is a recipe for a very good game. Roll on that 0-0.