From Cobham to Thorp Arch: Why Leeds United Want Lewis Bate

Over the last 5 years or so there has been an emerging trend; young players leaving elite clubs in search of first team football. Jadon Sancho being the most notable name to do so recently after he believed he was ready for first team football, however, the opportunity at Manchester City simply wasn’t there. This paid off for him and others are now following suit. The latest young talent to leave an elite club is Lewis Bate, who is on his way to Leeds United after leaving Chelsea. The England youth international rejected a new deal in order to get first team chances at a club with a clear pathway. Bate is considered one of the biggest talents in England and this sentiment is echoed by scout Xander Wilkinson, a scout for an Eredivisie club: “so many of Bate’s raw attributes and qualities are of a higher level than the likes of Billy Gilmour at the same age. I genuinely believe if you bring all of Bate’s game together you could have an England international within 24-36 months”. High praise from someone who scouts youth football in England heavily and is my go to man whenever I am wanting an opinion on a player. So what are the raw attributes that Xander talks about? Let’s take a look. 

Name: Lewis Bate

D.O.B: 29/10/2002 (18)

Foot: Left 

Height: 5’6”

Weight: 66kg

Position

Chelsea’s under 23’s tend to play with formations that have two flat central midfielders or a variant with two double pivots. Lewis Bate played as one of the two, with an emphasis on being the player providing ball progression and being the deep lying play maker. He has at times played as a no.8 but due to his technical ability, is much better suited in a pivot. Long term I would expect that he would play the role of being a single pivot. 

In possession

The area that Lewis Bate really excels in and shows standards above most seen at under 23 level is his passing ability, both at short and long range. To start with he is brilliant at finding space in the midfield area to create good passing angles for his teammates. He often scans multiple times before moving into space in central and wide areas. When he receives the ball he is already aware of where his teammates are on the pitch and positions his body accordingly. This allows him to take the ball under pressure before playing all types of passes. He has the vision to see teammates in space, particularly switches of play. His ball striking technique when it comes to long range passes is impressive. Whilst many play lofted or chipped passes which run the risk of being intercepted, Bate almost uses a “knuckleball” technique, striking through the ball which provides power and dip on his passes. These sort of passes allows his teammates to receive the ball into their stride and also make it very difficult for the opposition to intercept as reading the flight of the ball is difficult. There are a number of examples of these sort of passes and other long range passes below:

It is also worth noting that he is able to play long balls from a deeper position, closer to his goal or from a move advanced position closer to the opposition goal. This variety means that he is able to help break down defences that sit deep or turn defensive and also teams that press high. His short range passing is crisp, often appreciative of a player’s strong foot and making sure that the pass lands on it. He also takes risk in possession, looking to play passes between the lines rather than just being safe. This allows his team mates to take up more advance position with knowledge that Bate will look to find them and put his team on the front foot. He is a player who constantly demands the ball and doesn’t shy away even if he is not having the best of games. A few examples below show his passing through the lines as well as him wanting the ball:

Along with playing vertically, Bate took up positions in the final third to provide almost a “safety net” for teammates in possession. Being available and in space allows him to be in a position to recycle possession and hit the switch of play we talked about earlier. This is important as it allows the team with the ball to pin the opposition and not allow them to get out. Not providing such receiving angles could lead to the ball being turned over as the player in possession will have limited options. If you watch the two videos looking at his passing, you can see this in action. 

Dictating the tempo of games in modern day football is very important. Having a player to sit deep and inject pace with line breaking passes but also slow down games with short and sharp passes is crucial. Bate is very good at this and has the understanding of when to inject tempo depending on how the game is going. Leeds play quite frantic football and have a lot of midfield players that are transition based so having someone like Bate who could replace Phillips eventually if he is injured, will allow us to still have control. As well as having the ability to progress the ball via passes, Bate is also a very good ball carrier. He has a good burst of acceleration and close ball control which allows him to evade pressure. This is helped by his low centre of gravity, making it very difficult for opposition players to “attach” on to him. At times he can be guilty of taking on one man too many but for young players, the intent is more important than than outcome. He also tends to only do this deep in the opposition half so the risk is less and the reward is greater if he is able to beat his man. Below are a few examples of him dribbling past players in tight areas and examples of him shifting the ball away from pressure. There is also a clip of him showing composure after a dribble to set up a chance: 

Whist shooting isn’t really an area that is of primary concern given his position and role both at Chelsea and what it is likely to be at Leeds, I thought I’d touch upon it anyway. As with his ball striking technique when it comes to long range passing, this translates well when it comes to his shooting. He is able to generate power and movement but as you would expect from a player who doesn’t often find himself in shooting positions, the composure lacks at times. He did score a very nice goal in the FA Youth cup win against Barnsley: 

Lewis Bate is a player that in possession of the ball is a joy to watch. He can control games, evade pressure and break down an opponent with his passing ability. It is however important that he is just as capable out of possession of the ball, something we will now look at. 

Out of possession

First things first, don’t be fooled by Lewis Bate’s “lack” of physicality. Whilst he is only 5’8” and weighs just 66kg, he makes up for it in other ways. Technically he is so good that he’s constantly been playing above his age group though out his time at Chelsea, therefore been playing against players that are much bigger and stronger. This has meant that Bate has developed ways in which he can get the better of the duels using his low centre of gravity and balance to wriggle between man and ball. He is very effective at getting his body across to block the run of players but in a way in which he doesn’t get fouls given against him. Once he’s managed this, he uses his quick feet and acceleration to get out of pressure. He is also aggressive in challenges and isn’t afraid to get stuck in, showing great tenacity in applying pressure on opposition players. Below is a video showing multiple examples of him getting the better of duels against players bigger in size: 

Like previously mentioned, he has predominantly played as a two or three in midfield rather than as a single pivot which would likely be the position he would play at Leeds. Therefore he will need to improve the timing of his tackles and overall defensive awareness. He also at times steps out of position at the wrong times, misses the tackle and then leaves space behind him for the opposition to exploit. An example of this can be seen below:

This however isn’t a massive concern given that Leeds play a man marking system rather than covering space. Having the awareness of where his man is when possession is turned over will be one of the things the club will look to drill into him straightaway. We saw this with Phillips when Bielsa moved his position so I’m confident that some time on the training pitch will see Bate add this to his game. Some added bulking and filling out would also help in the future, allowing him to get the better of more 50/50’s but this is something that will almost definitely come with age and first team experience. As with any player that joins Leeds, his stamina will increase but he currently has a good base to work up from. He is mobile and is able to get around the pitch, showing good energy late in games which will stand him in good stead. 

Final Thoughts 

The reported fee for Lewis Bate is £1.5 million with add ons, which although he is out of contract in a years time, represent unbelievable value. Initially he will have to get used to the Leeds system and do his education with the under 23’s whilst also training with the first team. I would expect that it won’t be long before we see him make his first team debut with the goal to eventually become Phillips’ back up. This signing is a major coup for Leeds United but also a sign of how times are changing. 

Xander can be found on Twitter: @Xander0894, I highly recommend following him. 

By Thomas Wilson

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