Elland Road has been stocked in recent years by fan-favorite, capable defensive midfielders, but few have taken to life at Leeds United quite like Ethan Ampadu in his first two months as a Whites player.
Despite his youth, the Wales international has vast experience, having experienced relegation with Sheffield United, Spezia and Venezia during loan spells away from Stamford Bridge, as well as relishing qualification for and participation in tournaments such as the European Championships and the FIFA World Cup.
He is still younger than predecessors Tyler Adams and Kalvin Phillips when they rose to prominence at Elland Road, but he has already demonstrated a proficiency at the base of Daniel Farke’s midfield, allaying concerns that Leeds would not, or could not, adequately replace the aforementioned duo.
Ampadu’s adaptation to life at Elland Road can be judged after eight league games this season, in which he has played every minute. While on international duty earlier this month, the player spoke of feeling settled, both emotionally and professionally, in West Yorkshire. On the field, it’s tough to imagine Farke’s Leeds club performing as well without him, given the impact he’s had in the first two months of the four-year contract inked in July.adequately replace the aforementioned pair.
While Ampadu does operate in front of the defense, similar to Phillips and Adams before him, his precise function is rather different due to the Leeds style. This season, the Whites are a front-foot club, holding control of the ball and functioning in the opposition half due to a lower caliber of opponent, which is a far cry from Jesse Marsch’s style in the Premier League.
When Ampadu’s defensive and leadership talents are compared to the listed pair, both of whom were adored during their time at Elland Road, similarities may be drawn. The Welsh international leads his Leeds teammates in ball recoveries and interceptions, while he is only a whisker behind Luke Ayling in successful tackles.
Whereas Adams’ progressive abilities were hampered by a team style that did not prioritize patient build-up, the American was not regarded as a typically progressive player throughout his career in Major League Soccer and the German Bundesliga, despite the fact that both were revered during their time at Elland Road. The Welsh international leads his Leeds teammates in ball recoveries and interceptions, while he is only a whisker behind Luke Ayling in successful tackles.
Ampadu, on the other side, has shown a capacity to contribute to more attacking phases, whereas Adams was essentially a breaker-up of play; a disruptive presence.
Meanwhile, Leeds’ new No. 4 ranks second among his teammates in both progressive passes and completed passes into the final third this season, both of which are bettered by Pascal Struijk, whose deeper starting position attracts less opposition pressure, which explains why defenders tend to rank higher than midfielders in these metrics.
Ampadu’s pass completion percentage of 84.2 percent is higher than the 2023/24 team average, and his season-to-date non-penalty Expected Goals (NPxG) total of 0.3 already exceeds the 0.1 Adams accumulated in 26 Premier League appearances last season. Granted, the USMNT captain was playing for a Leeds team that dominated the ball and territory far less than Ampadu’s, but facts aside, Ampadu can contribute to more phases of play, albeit at a lower level.
Speaking of passing, Phillips’ passing repertoire became something he was praised for both at Elland Road and with England. Ampadu isn’t quite at Phillips’ level yet, and Farke doesn’t attack like Marcelo Bielsa with switches of play to wingers hugging either touchline, but the skill is there: Ampadu has completed 27 of his 43 long pass attempts this season, the second-most of any outfield Leeds player.
In general, he is this team’s all-arounder. Ampadu, like Adams, can be destructive, distribute at a level similar to, but not yet equal to, Phillips, and contribute to numerous stages of build-up play on this team. All the while, he excels in the intangibles: positioning, on-field leadership, and general game reading.
Keeping him fit will be critical to Leeds’ success this season in accomplishing their aim of promotion, which after eight league games may seem exaggerated if you haven’t seen him.