Keeper conundrum, Jean-Kevin Augustin quandary and Marcelo Bielsa's 'new ways' - Leeds United Talking Points

AFTER seeing Leeds United fall to a fourth defeat from their last five games, the YEP's Lee Sobot looks at a few key talking points from Saturday's 2-0 loss at Nottingham Forest.

Sunday, 9th February 2020, 4:50 pm
Updated Sunday, 9th February 2020, 4:51 pm
SITTER: Nottingham Forest striker Lewis Grabban fails to beat Leeds United 'keeper Kiko Casilla from close range. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.

'Same old story' but new issues too?

Whites full-back Luke Ayling faced the media after Saturday's loss at the City Ground and lamented the "same old story" in playing some "decent football up to a point but with no cutting edge."

United's recent dreadful run has basically been down to dominating games but continually missing a boat load of goalscoring chances and then conceding at the other end - more often than not at set pieces.

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Yet despite Leeds again having most of the ball with 70 per cent of possession, Forest actually had more attempts on goal with 14 shots and six on target compared to United's 13 efforts with only one on target.

That one effort belonged to skipper Liam Cooper's whose close-range header from a corner was kept out by Brice Samba and while United had other opportunities to take at least a share of the spoils, there were definitely not as many clear-cut chances as in previous weeks.

Forest, meanwhile, had other excellent opportunities to net more than twice with Lewis Grabban missing a sitter and a continued theme of United's play featured frustration with the Whites getting into decent positions in the final third but unable to produce any end product, particularly out wide despite Helder Costa and Jack Harrison seeing plenty of the ball.

United's effort cannot be doubted and it was pretty obvious Leeds were trying their hardest to get back into the game after conceding but Ayling himself admitted it has been quality that has been lacking of late and Leeds now have 15 games left to unearth that quality once again.

Cushion vanished and five points between second and seventh

Leeds had an 11-point cushion in the division's automatic promotion places after the 2-0 win at home to Hull City but just 11 games and two months later that cushion is down to mere goal difference.

The second-placed Whites have taken just nine points from a last possible 30 - hardly promotion form - and whilst United remain second the stark reality is that defeats in United's next two games could even leave them seventh such has been the dramatic changing of the landscape of the chasing pack.

Leeds could be top or seventh in six days' time, albeit West Brom have now opened up a four-point lead at the top of the tree following Sunday's 2-0 win at Millwall.

The Whites were no bigger than 1-16 to finish in the top two in December but can now be backed at 13-20 with the Baggies above United for the first time in weeks in that market at 3-5.

Brentford are 7-4, Fulham 7-2, Forest 8s, Preston 50s and Bristol City 80-1.

Even the Robins, though, are only five points behind Leeds - the same as sixth-placed Preston, with fifth-placed Brentford two adrift, fourth-placed Forest one behind and third-placed Fulham only being eclipsed on goal difference.

What is certain is that defeat at Brentford on Tuesday will eject Leeds from the top two and even a draw might not be enough with Fulham away at Millwall on Wednesday and Forest at home to Charlton on Tuesday.

Crazy to even contemplate the thought of Leeds being out of the automatics in February.

The facts are, of course, that Leeds still remain in second with their automatic promotion destiny very in their own hands with Fulham still to play but a quick reversal of fortunes will be needed for that status quo to continue.

'New ways' seeking historic win at Brentford

Marcelo Bielsa has always been extremely patient and loyal with his starters during periods of frustration and the Whites head coach again named an unchanged side for Saturday's clash at Forest despite the previous weekend's 1-0 loss at home to Wigan Athletic.

But there will definitely be at least one change for Tuesday night's clash at Brentford with Kalvin Phillips back from a three-game ban and the effects of his absence have been obvious.

Mateusz Klich and Ben White are both fine players but neither are natural central defensive midfielders and Leeds will definitely be aided by Phillips' return to that position at Griffin Park.

That will allow White to move back to centre-back and an obvious option for Bielsa is to move Dallas from midfield to left back in place of Gjanni Alioski who had a game to forget at Forest though he wasn't alone.

More questions were asked about 'keeper Kiko Casilla in the post-match press conference with the Spaniard beaten far too easily at his near post for Sammy Ameobi's opener as part of an unconvincing display though Bielsa again defended Casilla, saying he could not condemn him and - rightly or wrongly - it would still be a surprise if Illan Meslier came into the side for the clash at Brentford.

But something clearly needs to change and Bielsa has plenty of other options, not least through new striker signing Jean-Kevin Augustin who replaced striker Patrick Bamford in the second half to pretty good effect - possibly somewhat ahead of schedule - and also Jamie Shackleton who made a welcome return in coming on for Alioski.

Tyler Roberts would be another definite leading option to start after replacing Pablo Hernandez if emerging fit after taking a knock in the second half.

There are no shortage of options to ring the changes for a head coach who insisted in the aftermath of Saturday's defeat that the resources the team had were enough and declared: "I never give up, I always fight. I never stop believing. I always keep faith. I always find new ways to make the team do better when they play next."

As such, it will be fascinating to see how Bielsa attempts to do that as Leeds head for a ground they last won at in 1950 with United's last ten visits to the Bees failing to yield a victory, a statistic that also applies the club's last ten games in London as a whole.

Talk about the perfect time to change that.