Infamous Leeds United label under threat as Daniel Farke curbs bad behaviour at Elland Road

Ian Hodgson/PA Wire
Elland Road has long been the home of 'Dirty Leeds', but the very moniker which has become synonymous with the Whites has never been further from the truth under Daniel Farke.

Leeds United have given themselves as good a chance as any fellow Championship side over the festive period with manager Farke set to be able to call on near-enough a fully-available squad during the next couple of weeks.

Injuries permitting, Leeds can name their strongest starting XI versus the likes of Blackburn Rovers, Sunderland, Coventry City, Ipswich Town, Preston North End and West Bromwich Albion before the year is out, largely due to the squad's collective good behaviour.

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United have picked up the fewest yellow cards of any team in English football's second, third or fourth tiers, accruing just 29 cautions - and one red for two bookable offences - in their 19 Championship outings so far, making them the division's cleanest side.

By comparison, Stoke City have been shown 50 bookings already, while fellow promotion-chasing side Southampton have seen yellow 49 times; Leicester City and Ipswich Town, meanwhile, sit on 44 apiece. Leeds have hardly been known to curry favour with referees but this season, the youthful bunch, steered by Farke at the helm, are the officials' pocketbook darlings, whether fans of the club like it or not.

What it has meant, is those walking the suspension tightrope have escaped a one-match ban for picking up five yellow cards, as the cut-off for that particular punishment has now passed with Leeds' 3-2 win over Middlesbrough at the weekend. Crysencio Summerville was on four for the campaign, as were Joe Rodon and Georginio Rutter, although both would have needed to see red against Boro to miss this weekend's trip to Blackburn. This is owing to the fact two of Rodon's four yellows this season came in the game he was sent off against Hull City, while Georginio's fourth caution of the campaign came at Elland Road last Saturday.

Talismanic central midfielder Ethan Ampadu was shown a yellow card in three of Leeds' opening seven league matches, but has since gone 12 without a booking to ensure he remains available to Farke. Anyone who has watched United this season will know the Welsh international hasn't avoided challenges lately, either, nor has he stopped committing fouls. Ampadu has made 22 fouls, averaging over one per game and is the third-most-frequent offender in Leeds' squad, but remains on three yellows for the season.

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Equally, Leeds' Football League bookings low does not correspond to the fouls they have made. United have committed 190, the ninth-least in the Championship. Much like Pep Guardiola's Manchester City, who fly under-the-radar as prolific offenders when it comes to fouling, Leeds appear to have been street-smart.

This is a far-cry from just last season, when the Whites' 84 bookings in 38 Premier League matches was the joint-highest alongside Wolverhampton Wanderers, en route towards the top flight's trap-door. Wolves' ill-discipline saw them pick up six reds last term, to Leeds' three, but the pair were by some distance the division's most-oft penalised teams.

While Farke's Thorp Arch standard-setting can be partly attributed to Leeds' disciplinary improvement, there is also something to be said of the German's style. United typically see more of the ball than their opponents in the Championship and needless to say, it is a great deal trickier to find one's name scribbled in the referee's notebook when in possession. Southampton, Ipswich and Leicester's tally of yellows, however, suggests that is far from the sole reason Leeds' disciplinary record is much improved this season, as they too enjoy plenty of the ball.

The Leeds of 2023/24 appear sharper, fitter and more alert than the team of last year. Their approach has changed, too. For much of 2022/23, Leeds' pressing style led to lots of ground duels, won and lost, fouls awarded and conceded - it was scrappier, less fluid and therefore easier to pick up cautions with such a frictional nature underpinning their approach out of possession.

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Then, there are the intangible aspects which have led to disciplinary improvement. Farke has now stated on more than one occasion, if a senior and junior player come to a disagreement on the pitch, the senior player is in the right, 'even if he is wrong'. What the 47-year-old means by that, is there is a clear hierarchy in the dressing room - seniority and authority is to be respected. Setting standards such as these fosters a more obedient atmosphere - at least in Leeds' case that appears to be true. Whatever the reason behind United's disciplinary betterment, this iteration of Leeds is one which hardly lives up to the nickname used to label Don Revie's team of the 1960s and '70s. That is not to say they are soft; Leeds have been forced to dig in at times already this term, and there is no shortage of heart or spirit on display. They're gutsy, but tackle clean.

It isn't the Leeds of old, the in-your-face, Billy Bremner-landing-one-on-Kevin-Keegan, Norman-bites-yer-legs-Hunter pugnacity of years gone by, but come the end of the season, if Leeds place in the top two, there'll be few complaints at how they did it.

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