Patrick Bamford has started the Premier League in a fury of fantastic form.
The striker, whom many worried wouldn’t be able to hack it in England’s top flight, has made light of those concerns starting 2020/21 with an incredible six goals in six games. He proved himself a superb fit for Marcelo Bielsa’s system in the Championship and carried it through to the Premier League so seamlessly that Leeds have not had to face the usual problem promoted sides do: that their strikers are suddenly nowhere near as prolific in the top flight.
- Age: 27
- League stats under Marcelo Bielsa
- Shots: 234
- Goals: 31
- Big chances scored: 15
- Big chances missed: 51
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After coming through at Nottingham Forest, Bamford was on the books at Chelsea, and as part of their loan army he had spells at a handful of clubs, three in the Premier League. Eventually he was sold to Middlesbrough, where he did score his first ever Premier League goal, albeit while also getting relegated. One year later he joined Leeds as Marcelo Bielsa took over.
Over time, Bamford emerged as Bielsa’s go-to forward. The striker brings the kind of intense movement and pressing energy that Bielsa demands from all his players, so he is a natural fit. Of course all that movement usually has two major impacts on his performance as a striker, the first being that he is nearly always in great positions to score goals.
The second impact is the fact that, as a result of his intense work-rate on and off the ball, when he is eventually found in those great scoring positions by his team-mates, he is often more fatigued than most strikers would be and thus, he misses. And he misses a lot.
Since Bamford joined Leeds, he’s missed a staggering 51 big chances. A big chance is one Opta defines as clear-cut, where you’d expect strikers to score. For reference, looking at the Premier League and Championship since the start of 2018/19, no one can match Bamford’s profligacy. Tammy Abraham (43) and Gabriel Jesus (42) are the only others to have missed more than 40.
That could be taken as a damning stat, with Bamford cast as an unreliable finisher. However, if you expand outwards to include all of Europe’s top five leagues and then look again at big chances missed, the players that are near Bamford are Robert Lewandowski (62), Luis Suárez (49) and Kylian Mbappé (48).
The thing with those three strikers is, Lewandowski has also scored a colossal 56 big chances, Mbappé has taken 42, whilst even the withered husk of Luis Suárez has bagged 28. All more than Bamford, but their goalscoring does point to why Leeds keep faith with Bamford.
Good strikers, the kind of good strikers that can get into position to miss 51 big chances, are worth persevering with. Eventually they will find their rhythm, the quality of service will get better, and their goal totals will improve. So from those big chances Bamford has, the goal to miss ratio will move closer to 40-50% (it’s currently 23%) which is about the standard for top level strikers.
Bamford’s combination of sublime movement and seemingly erratic finishing calls to mind Edinson Cavani, who is almost the archetypal forward for a high-pressing system. Cavani has had injuries over the last couple of years so only has about half the minutes Bamford does, but even there he has missed 27 big chances, scoring 21 (a 43.75% conversion rate). Cavani’s misses are so big that he seems more profligate than he is, but in reality he is an incredibly reliable finisher.
Bamford (aka the Grantham Cavani) knows the standard he has to get to, and he’s doing well to get there as we’re seeing this season. It’s only been six games, but Bamford has already had five big chances, and of those five he’s scored two – that’s exactly 40%. If Bamford can maintain that conversion rate on his big chances, then he will score plenty of goals this season as Marcelo Bielsa’s hurricane football will surely keep the supply constant.
Up next for Bamford is Leicester City, a side who have been fearsome against possession-based teams lately and should provide a superb counterweight to Bielsa’s Leeds. Bamford will want to keep on scoring, especially as his opposite number Jamie Vardy is on a hot streak and should pose a big problem for Leeds. But Patrick Bamford knows that if he keeps playing his natural game, he’ll pose a big problem for Leicester, too.