AFTER seeing Leeds United bag their ninth win from their last 12 league games, Lee Sobot looks at a few key talking points arising from Monday’s 3-0 defeat of Rotherham United at Elland Road.
Leeds are in the race to finish second
It’s a bold statement, but Garry Monk’s men would now be second in the Championship form table taken over the last eight games following six wins, one draw (at Aston Villa) and one loss (with ten men at leaders Brighton). The 19-point haul out of a last possible 24 is only bettered by Brighton who have taken 20 points over the same period. But second-placed Newcastle have taken only 12 points over that period - seven less than Leeds - and seven points is also the gap between fifth-placed Leeds and Newcastle in the table proper. Clearly, the first and foremost priority for Monk’s men is to guarantee a play-off place and with 21 games still remaining there is still a long way to go. But Leeds now have a five point buffer back to seventh-placed Derby County - who United welcome to Elland Road in their next league game a week on Friday. The gap could feasibly become eight points and the bookies now make the Whites odds on across the board and no bigger than 4-6 to finish in the top six. Exciting times. But while things can soon change, at the current rate of progress Leeds have every right to hold aspirations of gunning down the Magpies who they will visit in the fifth-last league game on Saturday, April 15. As they are both one point above fifth-placed Leeds, third-placed Reading - who have a game in hand - and fourth-placed Huddersfield Town must also be in the equation in the race to finish second as they to are picking up points at a rate of knots - though not quite as frequently as Leeds over the last eight games (Reading one point less and Huddersfield two less). Leeds are 20-1 to finish in the top two which looks about right but equally seems somewhat tempting at such juicy odds.
United’s 4-2-3-1 system suits best
Centre-back Pontus Jansson said Rotherham needed to be “killed” from the first minute on Monday and it was no surprise to see Monk name a very attacking line up with Chris Wood, Kemar Roofe, Pablo Hernandez, Souleymane Doukara and Hadi Sacko all starting. As such, United’s usual 4-2-3-1 became a 4-1-3-2 with Leeds sacrificing a defensive central midfielder in Kalvin Phillips in favour of an attacking midfielder in Pablo Hernandez - playing behind a front two of Wood and Roofe. But that move left captain Liam Bridcutt extremely exposed as the lone defensive central midfielder allowing Rotherham to pick out plenty of gaps and the Millers were unlucky not to be at least 1-0 up at half time. As it was, quick-thinking Monk soon sorted it out at half time by reverting to the usual formation in bringing on the excellent Ronaldo Vieira for Sacko and giving United’s midfield the Bridcutt-Vieira base. Rotherham were soon blitzed - Leeds again looked solid and Vieira ought to be starting alongside Bridcutt come next Friday night’s crunch clash with Derby. Vieira is in better form than Kalvin Phillips just now and Eunan O’Kane will surely have fitness issues.
Gaetano Berardi is a more than able ‘deputy’ at left back
Charlie Taylor has now missed United’s last three games after injuring his Achilles in the clash at home to Brentford on December 17 and fans have since naturally been worried that the left back could be leaving in January after handing in a transfer request last summer. But Monk again insisted in his post-match press conference on Monday that no first team player will be leaving Leeds in this window - including Taylor. The head coach also revealed that he hoped Taylor would be back fit and ready for the upcoming league clash with Derby. Yet in his absence, Berardi has performed admirably in ‘filling in’ as it were, despite being recognised as a more natural right back. There’s not much chance of the Swiss international winning that position back given the form of find of the season Luke Ayling. Left back might be Berardi’s best bet going forward in a Leeds shirt and his marauding run and shot that hit the post in the second half of Monday’s game was actually rather reminiscent of Taylor. Be it Taylor or Berardi, the left back slot is in good hands. Leeds now have a rock solid back four and need to sign Pontus Jansson and Kyle Bartley on permanent deals pronto. Both are worth their weight in gold.