Now this is going to sound strange, but as unlikely as it seems, there really is a way of drawing a parallel between the once heavyweight champion of the world, the once champions of Europe, and the undoubtedly still champions of 6 o’clock television.
Let’s start with Leeds United then. A team with an immense history, from Don Revie to Dennis Wise, who once almost conquered Europe (if it wasn’t for some dodgy French refereeing).
This year marks their centenary year, and after a wobble against Wigan last term ruined their chances of promotion, this time around they are hoping to do one better – return to the promised land.
Leeds have started well this season, rather unsurprisingly when you consider Bielsa had them in for double and triple sessions throughout preseason. However, that might just be the problem – Leeds’ style is unsurprising.
It took a while for teams to work Leeds out last year, as no-one knew what Bielsa would bring to the team. Despite all the praise for him from the likes of Guardiola and Pochetinno, it’s fair to say the Championship was a little taken back to see some real quality tika-taka from the same Leeds side who fell to pieces under the 4-4-2 loving Paul Heckingbottom during the ’17-’18 season.
This year is different, though. No-one is surprised by Leeds’ high press, domination of possession or their relentless attacking: they have resumed almost exactly the same style
as the last campaign under Bielsa.
The Championship has seen that Bielsa’s plan ‘B’ is to do plan ‘A’ better, so if you can come up with a way to stop plan ‘A’, you have a way of stopping Leeds. Granted, this is easier said than done, as has been proven by solid Leeds performances against Bristol City, Brentford, Wigan and Stoke, against all of whom Leeds came away with a comfortable 3 points. However, something very different happened when Swansea met Leeds at Elland Road.
From the beginning, it was clear to see that this Swansea side were happy to settle for a single point. Aside from the usual game slowing measures, they registered just two shots on target from the ninety minutes.
They had an expected goals ratio (xG) of just 0.46 and maintained only 38% possession. So how did they manage the ultimate robbery and win the game 1-0? Enter the Simpsons.
November 1996 brought us Season 8 of The Simpsons, and with it, ‘The Homer They Fall’. Homer (under the guidance of bartender turned manager Moe Syslak) decides to become a professional boxer, due to his diagnosis from Dr. Hibbert of ‘Homer Simpson Syndrome’.
This unique condition allows him to take as many punches as anyone is willing to give him, something which is realised by Homer mid-beating, courtesy of the parents of bullies Jimbo Jones, Dolf Starbeam and Kearney Zzyzwicz (yes, this is their real names).
After Moe convinces Homer to participate (largely due to the gratuitous meals consumed by professional boxers) in exchange for a 60% cut of his winnings, they set to work. It is here that the link between Homer Simpson and Swansea City can be made.
It doesn’t take long for Moe to realise that punching just isn’t Homer’s thing. Instead, Homer should just stand there, absorb the pressure, and execute an effective smash and grab in the ninetieth minute when the opponent is at his most vulnerable by simply nudging the exhausted boxer to the ground.
The similarities between Homer and Swansea – along with Moe Syslak and Steve Cooper – can be seen. Before Homer enters the ring, Moe shouts him this last piece of advice: “No matter how much he hits you, you don’t do nothing okay? You don’t wanna get drawn into a boxing match here.”
It wouldn’t be shocking at all to learn that Steve Cooper (probably) shouted something equally of the same effect to his Swansea players in the Elland Road away dressing room just moments before kick off: Do not engage in a football match – sit back, soak up the pressure, and wait.
This analogy is best served with a pinch of salt of course; it is not to suggest that Leeds were exhausted by the end of the match, but merely to illustrate the principle – Swansea City did not come to engage in a good old fashioned game of football with two sides gunning for the win. Instead, they came to execute the perfect antidote to Bielsa’s plan A – defend at all costs.
Not every team will be so lucky. It’s fair to say that Leeds were unfortunate not to take all three points last weekend, or even to come away with only one.
If every team to visit Elland Road were to arrive with a severe case of ‘Homer Simpson Syndrome’ rushing through their blood, Leeds should and would put the vast majority of teams to bed, considering that they are almost quite literally off the charts in terms of attacking play. They are averaging almost eighteen shots per game in the league, and conceding just over seven.
Statistically, if you were to assume every team converts exactly their expected goals ratio, the Leeds vs Swansea game would be the most ‘unfair’ result of all the Championship ﬁxtures that weekend.
According to ‘infogol’, that game’s xG score of 2.06-0.46 drew a fairness rating of just 36 out of 100. To put that into context, Brentford’s 3-0 win over Derby had an xG score of 3.01-0.16, which gave a ‘fairness’ score of 98.3.
And yet – as is quickly becoming a modern day footballing cliché – games are not won on expected goals.
Ultimately, if Swansea used this tactic in every game for the rest of the season, they would most likely fall short of automatic promotion.
Just as in The Simpsons, Homer eventually gets his comeuppance. In his ﬁnal ﬁght, he is pitted against ‘Drederick Tatum’, a rather unsubtle Mike Tyson parallel (not the least of which is shown as Drederick spends a period of time in prison, albeit for a more comical crime than the real world heavyweight champion).
Drederick and Homer battle it out on national television, and, rather like the Leeds vs Swansea game, the better side completely dominates the match. In fact, Drederick is almost on the urge of ‘making Homer’s children orphans’ (despite them having a mother; as Tatum mentions, Marge will inevitably die too of grief).
In this ﬁght however, the only smash and grab to take place is when Moe smashes the viewer’s expectations to grab Homer (via mini hovercraft) out of the ring and away from danger.
Swansea may not have needed a ‘Fan Man’ hovercraft to save them last weekend, but if Leeds United carry on dominating teams the way they did in that match, it is certain that most teams to come to the best attended stadium in the championship, wouldn’t be opposed to seeing a Moe Syslak ﬂying over the horizon to grab them from danger, and escape a Bielsa style knockout.
Edited by Katherine Guerrero