After a stellar first season for the Whites, Ronaldo Vieira has hardly featured this time around due to tendonitis in his knee. But the midfielder made a stunning comeback at Bristol City. Phil Hay reports.
Ronaldo Vieira’s destruction of Bristol City – so calculated that Lee Johnson singled him out for a mention – begged the question of why Leeds United were hiding him away but it transpired on Saturday that the midfielder’s knee injury is more than a passing niggle.
What had been cast as a minor concern, though genuine enough to rule him out of England Under-20 duty and Leeds’ last home game against Reading, was in fact tendonitis, an ailment Vieira has been managing for several months.
The 19-year-old’s body was exposed to a sharp rise in stress last season as his first year as a senior player at Leeds – and his first as a professional footballer – brought 38 appearances, and the chance of a rest over the summer was sacrificed after England selected Vieira for the Toulon Tournament in France. He was back at Thorp Arch for the first day of pre-season training but Leeds’ reluctance to flog him might have done him good.
By Saturday, however, and after three straight defeats, Thomas Christiansen had reached the point where adding Vieira’s vigour to a jaded midfield was the most obvious decision going; an inevitable call which paid off handsomely. Vieira put his foot into a Bristol City side who were previously unbeaten at Ashton Gate and inspired a level of a dominance which allowed others around him to play freely and win at a canter.
So many were unrecognisable from United’s tepid 1-0 defeat to Reading.
The pain in Vieira’s knee did not constrain him in Bristol and the midfielder admitted he was already in the habit of managing it. “It’s a bit of tendonitis,” he said. “I think a lot of players suffer with it.
“I can play with it but I didn’t go away with England because it was a bit sore. I stayed and did some work on it and it feels alright now. It feels good.
“Last year I struggled with my knee as well but I played through it.
“This year it got a little bit worse. Maybe that’s what slowed me down but I’ve kept my head down and kept working and working, trying to get into the team.”
The admission of Johnson, Bristol City’s manager, that Vieira “ran the show” was reminiscent of Steve McClaren’s “Vieira – wow” remark after Derby County were beaten at Elland Road in January. Vieira is blessed with the capacity to surprise but Christiansen has been sparing in his use of the midfielder throughout his time as head coach. Saturday was his first league start of the season. Prior to that game, Vieira’s minutes in the Championship totalled less than an hour.
“Last year was a good year for me,” Vieira said. “I was happy with it and my family were proud. I wanted to make them proud and that’s what I did.
“This year I’m trying to do the same, trying to help the team and make the fans happy by getting us back to the Premier League. That’s my aim. Obviously I’ve been a bit frustrated but it’s normal to be frustrated when you’re not playing. I’m just happy to be back out there.”
The Carabao Cup has been Vieira’s outlet this season, a tournament he has featured heavily in. Leeds go to Leicester City in the last 16 tonight, a tie against a Premier League club who are managerless after sacking Craig Shakespeare last week, but Christiansen has a balance to strike.
His side host Sheffield United in the Championship on Friday night and play Derby and Brentford next week, before the international break. On Saturday Vieira made himself look like a player who Christiansen might suddenly be wary of risking in the League Cup.
Vieira insisted he was making no assumptions about the likelihood of his performance at Bristol City leading to a long run of games. Christiansen stuck with his 4-2-3-1 formation over the weekend but, in fielding Kalvin Phillips in front of Vieira and Eunan O’Kane, found a better balance between the flair in his squad and the brawn. Leeds’ 3-0 victory at Ashton Gate was a glaring contrast to three previous defeats away from home.
Asked if he expected to keep his place, Vieira said: “I honestly have no idea. I want to play every game but it depends who we’re playing as well – whether we’re going to get the ball more or whether we’re going to need that physicality, like we did (on Saturday).
“It depends on the gaffer’s tactics and I thought they were brilliant. We wanted that physicality in midfield and when we needed to get forward, we got forward with the help of Kalvin and one of us.
“It was always about going for the victory.”
The result quelled criticism of Christiansen and made tonight’s game at Leicester something of a free hit for Leeds. United have already eliminated Burnley from the League Cup but after climbing back up to fourth in the Championship table, there is little pressure on the club’s players this evening.
Leicester, in contrast, are against a wall in the Premier League, though an away win at Swansea City under caretaker Michael Appleton on Saturday was a timely result.
“We just take every game as it comes,” Vieira said. “Every game we play is important and like we’ve seen a few times, there are no good teams or bad teams. Everyone can beat anyone.
“We’re trying to be a Premier League team and we’re trying to beat one again, just like we did with Burnley. We going to try and get into the next round of the cup.”