Leeds United's unsustainable practices revealed as boardroom hope delivers unwanted consistency

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Leeds United's underlying numbers were supposed to improve with the appointment of Javi Gracia, but after two humbling defeats at Elland Road, the club appear to be in just as much peril as they were two months ago

There is an argument that due to the dwindling number of remaining fixtures, Leeds' predicament is in fact more perilous than when the team limped to a 1-0 defeat at Nottingham Forest's City Ground in early February.

That result moved Leeds' board members to action, reluctantly parting with Jesse Marsch whom they had backed to the tune of £150 million in transfer windows. A protracted search for the American's replacement followed, before eventually settling for ex-Watford head coach Javi Gracia on 'flexible' terms, believed to be until the end of the season.

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Gracia's tenure got off to a positive start with wins against Southampton and Wolverhampton Wanderers, before the team fought back to defeat fellow strugglers Nottingham Forest at Elland Road; that made it three wins from six matches for the Spaniard.

LEEDS, ENGLAND - APRIL 17: Javi Gracia, Manager of Leeds United, reacts during the Premier League match between Leeds United and Liverpool FC at Elland Road on April 17, 2023 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)LEEDS, ENGLAND - APRIL 17: Javi Gracia, Manager of Leeds United, reacts during the Premier League match between Leeds United and Liverpool FC at Elland Road on April 17, 2023 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)
LEEDS, ENGLAND - APRIL 17: Javi Gracia, Manager of Leeds United, reacts during the Premier League match between Leeds United and Liverpool FC at Elland Road on April 17, 2023 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

However, Leeds' collapse against Crystal Palace and Liverpool in consecutive home games, conceding 11 goals in the process, surrendering their bargaining chip of superior goal difference compared to relegation rivals, was concerning to witness.

Eight matches into Gracia's tenure, then, and the signs are far from positive, despite Leeds picking up those three wins. The team have conceded 21 goals in that time, more than any other Premier League side, exacerbated by the 5-1 and 6-1 routs at Elland Road over the past two weeks.

Based on the quality of chances Leeds created and conceded in their last eight league matches, the Whites deserved to win just once according to the metric Expected Goals (xG) - the convincing but narrow victory over Forest.

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For those unfamiliar with xG, it can be described as: putting a number between 0.00 and 1.00 on the likelihood that a player ‘should have scored' an opportunity. An xG of 1 denotes a certain goal so the closer to 1 a chance is rated, the higher the expectation that the net should have bulged.

Wolves' xG in their 4-2 defeat by Gracia's side last month was greater than Leeds managed in the same game - and by some distance - suggesting the final scoreline did not accurately reflect the pattern of the game. Meanwhile, United's 1-0 win over Southampton saw both teams fail to create chances exceeding a total of 1.00 xG in the match, indicating a stalemate was perhaps the fairer result.

Additionally, during the 2-2 draw with Brighton and Hove Albion at Elland Road, Leeds scored twice from 12 shots, worth a cumulative 0.60 xG, according to data site Understat. The Seagulls, on the other hand, registered 1.51 xG in West Yorkshire.

Due to a combination of good fortune and good finishing, Leeds have accrued a healthy-looking ten points from Gracia's opening eight league games. Using Expected Points (xPTS), which calculates 'how many points a team could have expected to have taken from a game, based on the scoring opportunities they both created (xG For) and conceded (xG Against) in that game', a more accurate points return for Leeds' performances would be just shy of seven.

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Since Gracia's appointment, only Fulham and Nottingham Forest have a lower xPTS tally than Leeds' 6.77. They've been lucky.

Leeds have scored 12 Premier League goals since mid-February but their xG suggests based on the quality of their shots, the team should have scored nine goals instead. An overperformance of three goals across eight matches is quite considerable and, particularly for poorer sides, unsustainable.

Since Gracia's arrival, Leeds' xG overperformance is the third-highest in the division - behind Arsenal and Manchester City - but that doesn't mean it's necessarily a good thing. While teams at the top of the table are, by definition, above average, their favourable goals-to-xG difference is therefore more in line with overall performance.

For Leeds, at the other end of the table, it indicates yet again, they've been fortunate: goalkeepers have performed below their usual standard; strikers have scored with low-value shots that are more difficult to replicate over an extended period of time.

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The team's xG - which sits at 8.72 from eight matches - is the fifth-lowest during Gracia's time at the helm, whereas fellow overperformers Arsenal and Man City have, over the same period, recorded the highest and fourth-highest xG, respectively, emphasising the aforementioned point regarding sustainability.

But, that's not all. The xG Leeds have conceded (xGA) is the fourth-highest in the division since mid-February. At 16.33 xGA, this means Leeds are still allowing a high volume of high value shots on Illan Meslier's goal. In addition, the fact Leeds have conceded 21 goals during this period, indicates a considerable underperformance by the Frenchman in keeping the ball out of the net.

Meslier has allowed an additional four goals over the course of eight games, compared to how many the average goalkeeper would have been expected to concede based on the quality of shots faced. Unsurprisingly, this xGA underperformance is the greatest in the Premier League since mid-February.

Over the entire season, Leeds have conceded 59 times in the Premier League, excluding own goals, while Meslier's post-shot xG (PSxG) - which measures a goalkeeper's proficiency once a shot is known to be on target, therefore calculating the likelihood it should be saved - stands at 47.9. The difference between these two figures of 11.1 is the number of 'extra' goals conceded by the 23-year-old compared to the expected performance of the average goalkeeper. In short, Leeds should have conceded 48 goals, but instead have allowed 59.

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Eight games is not the largest sample size, but Leeds' underlying numbers are consistent, and not in the way they would want them to be. Their fixtures have been against opponents that vary in quality, at home and away from Elland Road, all of which suggests their data under the 52-year-old is representative of their performances.

If Leeds continue on their current trajectory, they run the risk of veering dangerously close to the Premier League precipice and into the Championship below.