Leeds United’s start to their summer recruitment has been encouraging for supporters, adding depth and quality to positions that were glaring issues for the Whites. USA international Brenden Aaronson was the first through the door, with the deal wrapped up just days after their survival.
Red Bull Salzburg defender Rasmus Kristensen followed his former teammate shortly after, linking up again with former boss Jesse Marsch in West Yorkshire. Bayern Munich outcast Marc Roca called time on his spell in Bavaria to become Victor Orta’s third addition this season, taking Leeds’ total expenditure to around £50m.
Kristensen and Roca are two very intriguing signings. The Danish full-back enjoyed a tremendous season last time out and was ready to take the next step in his career, whilst Roca, who has struggled for game time since leaving Espanyol two years ago, will be keen to prove his worth in the Premier League. Using stats courtesy of Wyscout, what exactly can Leeds fans expect from their two recent signings?
With Luke Ayling, 30, and Stuart Dallas, 31, to miss the start of next campaign through injury, youngster Cody Drameh, whose impressive performances caught the eye whilst on loan at Cardiff City last term, was the only fit, recognised right-back at Jesse Marsch’s disposal.
If last season taught us anything, a minimum of two players in every position is not only a commodity but a necessity. With a gradual changing of the guard taking place at Elland Road, as more members of the Championship-winning side see their influence on the field wane, an upgrade on Ayling in the starting 11 made sense.
Whilst fantastic going forward, more and more mistakes crept into the former Arsenal man’s game last season, notably picking up a straight red card for a horror challenge at the Emirates. That upgrade on Ayling could very well come in the form of Rasmus Kristensen.
The 24-year-old Dane enjoyed a fine year in Austria last term. The highest scoring full-back in the division with seven league goals, the former Ajax player recorded the most accurate final third passes, 421, the most successful take-ons, 39, the fourth most chances created, 34, and, importantly, the joint fewest errors leading to goals, 0, amongst defenders.
Although Ayling recorded more successful defensive actions per ninety (including tackles, clearances and blocks), no doubt down to Leeds’ frailties at the back, the players won a similar number of defensive duels on average, with Kristensen making more interceptions per game.
The Dane completed the greatest number of tackles per ninety in the Champions League last season too, proving he is able to make the step up against tougher opposition. Interestingly, however, the new signing recorded far fewer slide tackles per 90 than Ayling, something that is likely to reassure fans given his tendency to be rash into the challenge.
It is well worth remembering Salzburg’s standings in terms of Austrian football, but if Kristensen’s average heat map below is anything to go on, Leeds supporters can expect the marauding defender to always be an option on the flanks. In Marsch’s narrow 4-2-2-2 system, the lack of wingers hugging the touchlines often means that full-backs provide the width in attacking areas.
At just 24 and already capped eight times by his country, Kristensen looks a fine addition to a side aiming to build a more rounded, well-equipped squad.
Roca, despite making just nine appearances for his former employers in last season’s Bundesliga, impressed as Joshua Kimmich’s understudy, ranking third in the league for passes per ninety across the full season, 64, and seventh for progressive passes per ninety, 9.11.
Whilst not renowned for his off-ball work during his time with boyhood club Espanyol, the necessity for players to improve physically in Bavaria, see Leon Goretzka, saw Roca sit tenth amongst Bundesliga midfielders in terms of attempted defensive duels per ninety, with a success rate of 68%.
A cultured, left-footed player, Roca likes to utilise his wonderful long passing abilities, often dropping as deep as his defenders to retrieve the ball. The Spaniard’s first thought is generally forward with chipped balls over the top or out wide to pacey forwards to exploit space in behind high lines.
Usually operating in a defensive double pivot, the 25-year-old is also capable playing as a box-to-box eight similar to Adam Forshaw, as the heat map below shows.
They key for Jesse Marsch will be to unlock the form that earned Roca his move to Bayern nearly two years ago. Whilst his numbers were impressive to say his playing time was so limited last campaign, a move so early in the summer will be hugely beneficial so he can get a full preseason under his belt and get up to speed.
For Roca, playing alongside Kalvin Phillips would work very well, with the fine defensive work of the England international complemented by the progressive passing of the Spaniard. As speculation intensifies over Phillips’ future, it is vital that the club’s recruitment of a similar combative midfielder is up to scratch.
Reports suggest that the club are monitoring RB Leipzig’s Tyler Adams, Sheffield United’s Sander Berge and Manchester City’s Roméo Lavia as potential successors, with Lavia perhaps being used as part of the deal that takes Phillips to the Etihad.
There will be numerous incomings and outgoings this summer as Leeds prepare for the start of next season. Their business so far has been encouraging and sensible; something fans of the West Yorkshire outfit have rarely seen in the past. If Kristensen and Roca are anything to go by, expect players of similar stature to be putting pen to paper at Elland Road.
By: Jack Douglas / @JDouglasSport
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA / Getty
Stats courtesy of Wyscout, LUFCDATA and Sky Sports.