McKennie, Gnonto, Bamford: How Leeds United Could Line Up Under Javi Gracia

Javi Gracia led Watford to 11th in the Premier League and an FA Cup final
12:16, 21 Feb 2023

Javi Gracia is on the brink of being named the new Leeds United manager and he has just one target. To survive. The club currently sit 19th in the Premier League, but they are just two points off safety, and the Spaniard will return to England for the first time since leaving Watford in 2019. 

His spell with the Hornets taught us a lot about him as a manager, as he led the club to their first ever FA Cup final and was a hit with fans - a true rarity at Vicarage Road. Watford go through more managers than Chelsea, and yet, even after less than two years in charge, Gracia was able to leave a lasting impression on those that follow the club. 

But what can Leeds United expect from their team under the former Valencia boss? 


In the 2018/19 season, Watford finished 11th in the Premier League and reached the FA Cup final. Given the success in England, we can expect Leeds to adopt a similar approach as the Hornets under Javi Gracia. 

What he used most of the time was a narrow 4-4-2 system that featured a midfield that produced incredible success. The tactical tweaks in games, sometimes switching to a 4-3-1-2, allowed Gracia to exert control on the midfield area, with two physical holding midfielders key to that. 

Abdoulaye Doucoure and Etienne Capoue played that role for Watford, but for Leeds, Marc Roca and Tyler Adams could do the same job. A flat back four with those two in front seems fairly standard these days, but Gracia’s real intelligence came in the forward areas. He used a hard-working central midfielder on the right-hand side, usually Will Hughes, and on the left he gave a little more freedom to Roberto Pereyra. 

When switching to a 4-3-1-2, Pereyra would move into the number ten position and Hughes would go central. But primarily, the two narrow midfielders were used to create a box in midfield, with Doucoure and Capoue at the base. This not only made life tough for opposition full backs and midfielders as Watford outnumbered them, but allowed the Hornets to stifle the central areas out of possession. 

For Leeds, Weston McKennie could be the man chosen to play the narrow role on the right, while Jack Harrison seems like the ideal candidate to play that slightly more advanced role from the left. Both prioritise hard work and are comfortable in central areas, which make them perfect for Gracia’s plans. 


But what this Watford system did also got the very best out of their star player. With Troy Deeney leading the line, Gerard Deulofeu was moved into a central role and allowed the freedom to cause havoc. Sometimes he’d play as an advanced forward, other times he was the number ten, but he was constantly a threat that the opposition struggled to pin down, registering ten goals and five assists over that league campaign. 

The beauty for Leeds is that they already have their very own Deulofeu. Willy Gnonto has been simply sensational this season and has all the attributes to replicate what the Spaniard did for Gracia. He should be given that free role behind the central striker, which is likely to be Patrick Bamford, given his experience and ability. 

That midfield on paper looks exciting, while the full backs will be relied upon to create the width. Crosses and cut backs play a key role in attacking scenarios, so Rasmus Kristensen could be preferred to Luke Ayling - while Junior Firpo needs to produce on the left. 

Gracia’s Watford team didn’t press the opposition into submission, but instead cleverly filled the space in narrow areas out of possession, and overloaded them in central positions with it. They had a player who could produce a bit of magic in Deulofeu, and now Leeds fans will hope Gracia can replicate his Watford success and secure Premier League survival. 

Betfred's Premier League odds*

*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change

Suggested Searches:
The Sportsman
Manchester United
Manchester City
Premier League
Sportsman HQ
72-76 Cross St
Manchester M2 4JG
We will not ask you to provide any personal information when using The Sportsman website. You may see advertisement banners on the site, and if you choose to visit those websites, you will accept the terms and conditions and privacy policy applicable to those websites. The link below directs you to our Group Privacy Policy, and our Data Protection Officer can be contacted by email at: [email protected]

All original material is Copyright © 2019 by The Sportsman Communications Ltd.
Other material is copyright their respective owners.