AFTER seeing Leeds United cruise to victory with a 2-0 triumph at Championship hosts Barnsley, the YEP’s Lee Sobot looks at a few key talking points arising from Saturday’s Yorkshire derby at Oakwell
The magic of Alioski and Saiz
It was fitting that Samu Saiz and Gjanni Alioski would bag United’s two goals at Oakwell as the duo have been United’s stand-out performers by a country mile so far this term.
More recruits like this special duo in January would be just the tonic.
Barnsley were not very good but Saiz ran the Tykes ragged and the Spaniard is already one short of bagging double figures for the campaign, making him United’s top scorer by four goals.
Not bad for a no 10.
Alioski, though, is also returning to the form that made him appear such a shrewd acquisition early on in the campaign and the skilful Macedonian winger has now netted in his last four games for the Whites with five goals under his belt for the season.
He is joint-second top scorer alongside Kalvin Phillips and Pierre-Michel Lasogga.
Saiz has been superb all season but if both he and Alioski can continue to thrive like they did at Oakwell, not to mention Pablo Hernandez who also did well, then Leeds ought to be capable of tearing plenty of teams to shreds.
Four or five could have been scored at Oakwell.
Caleb Ekuban - United’s new no 9
Head coach Thomas Christiansen sprang two surprises by bringing in Ekuban for Kemar Roofe in the lone striker role and with Felix Wiedwald replacing Andy Lonergan in goal.
Both changes paid off and Ekuban produced a decent shift on just his second league start. Work rate, movement and energy throughout.
All that was lacking for Ekuban was a goal and it is to be hoped that the 22-year-old can soon start hitting the goal trail and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t given the service from Saiz, Alioski and Pablo Hernandez.
If Ekuban can start hitting the back of the net, there’s a chance he could become ‘first choice’ striker because for one so inexperienced in Championship football, there is surely plenty of improvement to come.
Ekuban also looks well built to play the lone striker role.
Roofe, though, was rather unfortunate to see himself drop to the bench and at this stage he looks a more natural finisher than Ekuban which gives Christiansen plenty of food for thought, especially with German striker Pierre-Michel Lasogga potentially back in contention to feature in Friday night’s clash with Aston Villa at Elland Road after his sickness and then leg injury.
Felix Wiedwald - if the cap fits
Wiedwald must have been thrilled to have been given the nod by Christiansen to start in goal following six successive starts for Andy Lonergan after Wiedwald’s earlier displays saw him dropped.
Lonergan then saw the fame fate befall him.
Saturday’s clash at Oakwell was clearly huge for Wiedwald and the German had a solid game, looking steady enough from crosses and producing one very good save towards the end from Ryan Hedges.
Considerably stiffer tests will clearly await though Wiedwald was keeping his seventh clean sheet from 14 starts for the Whites at Oakwell.
Nobody is saying Wiedwald has suddenly become Manuel Neuer but Christiansen says the custodian has learnt from his earlier mistakes and the 27-year-old now looks certain to keep his place in net for Friday’s clash with Villa.
At least he won’t need a cap for the game under the floodlights though the actions of Whites fan TJ Higgins to lend the German his cap in low sunlight were brilliant to see. The Whites supporter was then handed Wiedwald’s shirt in return at full-time.
As far as the Villa game goes, the back from suspension Ronaldo Vieira for Eunan O’Kane might be the only change though O’Kane did his chances no harm at Barnsley and could feasibly even line up alongside Vieira depending on whether or not Kalvin Phillips keeps his place.
Breathing space for Thomas Christiansen
You get the sense that United’s Danish head coach knew that Saturday’s derby at Oakwell was a particularly big game following the 4-1 crushing at Wolves.
The 44-year-old admitted himself that the week as a whole would have been a good one if United triumphed at Oakwell to make it six points out of nine after last Sunday’s 2-1 success at home to Middlesbrough.
He was right and it’s now a case of job done for the week as Wolves look likely to walk the division and that defeat should be written off, however disappointing it may have been.
Christiansen’s men are still short of where they need to be in eighth and three points off the play-offs.
Leeds will be ninth and five points off the top six if Derby and Nottingham Forest win their games in hand.
There is still plenty of work to do and fourth-placed Aston Villa will take a bit of beating on Friday evening.
Villa have won nine of their last 12.
But after that game, Leeds have a decent looking set of fixtures in December with United playing five of the division’s bottom 11.
The Whites look back in a reasonable place after their awful run of six defeats in seven and a decent return of points from some very winnable games in December should have Leeds in the top six by the turn of the year.
Corners and yellow cards
The fact that United brought in set piece specialist Gianni Vio earlier this month was well documented and there was definite signs of a different approach from United’s corners.
From their first one in particular, just about every Whites player in the Barnsley box migrated towards the back post before circling and then surging forwards.
Evidence of work and Leeds would be even more of a threat if being able to score regularly at corners as they by and large get a fair few of them.
United had 12 at Oakwell to Barnsley’s five.
The yellow cards, though, are also adding up for Leeds who picked up three more at Barnsley, for Pontus Jansson, Luke Ayling and even Pablo Hernandez.
Saiz - who is on four for the season - at least avoided a fifth that would have meant a one-game ban for the Villa match.
Kalvin Phillips has picked up the most bookings of any Leeds player with seven.
Jansson, though, should be applauded for surviving 86 minutes on a yellow card.
The Swede continues to show signs of returning to his best and he and Liam Cooper will now be eyeing another clean sheet at home to Villa which will provide something like an acid test.