Leeds United’s Luke Ayling got another start under his belt as he led the side out as captain during the 0-0 draw with Brentford on Sunday.
The right-back position has been a peculiar one at Leeds this season, with a £10million summer outlay in Rasmus Kristensen doing little to set the record straight on who is first-choice.
Ayling has come back in more and more recently for starts in the Premier League, offering a good deal in the final third, and he earned another start as Leeds took on Brentford at the weekend.
However, overall it was a game that was lacking any sort of bite from Leeds in the final third, as much as the defence can be happy at keeping the Bees very quiet in a 0-0 draw.
Ayling’s performance doesn’t justify that he deserves to remain in the side indefinitely, but the lack of real impact beyond a clean sheet perhaps comes as a symptom of the style Leeds are running under Marsch, even though he could have done better.
Playing on the right side of the defence, Ayling found himself often picking up the ball in positions to get forward, but forced to play into traffic rather than maintain width, meaning he managed a very disappointing passing accuracy of 61% (per Wyscout).
That, combined with 22 losses of the ball (10 inside his own half) suggest that the right-back’s ball retention could have been a lot better, or that he could have been helped by a system using far more width, with Pascal Struijk devoid of options on the other side quite often too.
When the players Ayling is looking to play to are genuinely all within a 20-yard-wide zone of the pitch, there is no chance of sustaining possession, and it doesn’t get the best out of Ayling, whose strengths in possession have been from carrying the ball and teaming up out wide.
One out of three crosses is a low figure by his standards at Leeds, and proof of the lack of chance the defender has of getting into wide positions.
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The one time we had a trademark run to the byline from the 31-year-old, his choice of cross was poor, as he clipped the ball straight into David Raya’s hands, instead of floating the ball towards the back post where Struijk was arriving – a full-back-to-full-back move that we haven’t seen very often in this system.
As ever though, Ayling was aggressive without the ball, winning 59% of his impressive 27 duels, while engaging in 10 aerial duels too, and recovering the ball 12 times.
In terms of pressing hard, Leeds were “always online” (as Marsch’s dressing room poster pleads for) and defended very well against a side that can hurt even the best teams in the league.
However, going the other way, the verticality of remaining narrow just stifled any chance of Leeds creating meaningful attacks and keeping up the pressure, forcing players like Ayling back and forth all game.
Full-backs are the outlet for Leeds in this setup, but playing out to them only ends up in the ball going straight back into the same traffic, and while Ayling ought to do better with the chances he did have to create, he’s being hamstrung by a narrow attack.