Brighton loanee Ben White's reading of the game is keeping Leeds United on the front foot and exhausting the opposition

A pair of scruffy goals, both from corners, both in front of an aghast South Stand, have prevented Leeds United from leading the Championship into the international break.

By Graham Smyth
Tuesday, 3rd September 2019, 12:04 pm
Ben White's early Leeds performances have already earned him an award nomination (Pic: Getty)
Ben White's early Leeds performances have already earned him an award nomination (Pic: Getty)

It has so nearly been the perfect start to Marcelo Bielsa’s second season in charge.

The continuity the club sought to rely on in their latest attempt to escape this division has been evidenced not only by the way they’ve dominated the teams they’ve faced, but by some familiar struggles.

Leeds could and definitely should have 18 points from a possible 18.

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Bielsa is right when he says you can’t really criticise the players, who have played themselves into positions where a perfect record was possible.

He’s also right that they’ve left more than enough wiggle room for disappointment in the five points dropped at home.

Nottingham Forest scrambled a goal in to snatch an undeserved draw at Elland Road and the Swans repeated the trick in the 90th minute on Saturday but took all three points.

Although that moment, a footballing sucker punch if ever there was one, knocked the wind out of the Whites and left everyone bar the Welshmen at Elland Road a bit deflated just before the vaccum that is the international break.

Leeds fans will be gasping for something to cheer about again by the time they head to Barnsley for Sunday lunch with the Tykes on September 15.

In the meantime, there is plenty to pacify anyone still feeling the burning injustice of Swansea’s smash-and-grab-and-head-for-the-border raid at the weekend; Leeds are third, playing lovely football and will right up there come May.

But nothing should soothe the burn quite like reviewing Ben White’s cool, calm and collected performances since he arrived on loan from Brighton.

Championship jitters have simply not affected a player with no prior experience of football at this level.

His nomination for the PFA Fans Player of the Month award is no surprise and if he carries on his current trajectory, he’ll need to put up a few new shelves.

If there was an award for loan signing of the season, Leeds’ director of football Victor Orta could be forgiven for preparing an entertaining acceptance speech, even at this very early stage.

Whilst White’s passing was perhaps the first aspect of his game to catch the eye, his reading of the game has been fantastic, allowing him to lead Leeds in interceptions made per game, by some distance.

He is not afraid to take a chance and nip in ahead of a striker when he sees an opposition player shaping to pass forward.

It could be that the commanding performances of Liam Cooper, alongside him, has been all the encouragement he needs to go forth and play his game.

It could just be that 21-year-old has ice running through his veins.

Either way, that anticipation has stopped the opposition in their tracks and kept Leeds on the front foot.

For teams starved of possession and, thanks to the furious pressing they face, starved of oxygen, it must be equal parts disheartening and exhausting.

So well have White and Cooper played, the concerns over the departure of Pontus Jansson and the question marks over Leeds United’s central defensive area appear to have evaporated.

No other Championship team has conceded fewer goals than the Whites and it’s not just because Bielsa’s men deprive the opposition of the football for so long, so often.

They’ve defended well in general, those two aforementioned ugly goals side.

White, Cooper and Kalvin Phillips have given up very little, to date.

And Kiko Casilla, who set hearts racing with his meandering during the opener at Bristol City, has gone about his business uncharacteristically quietly since then. Effectively too.

Yet with all of that said, the goalkeeper and his back line will look at the Forest and Swansea goals with regret – they might also quite reasonably look at their attacking team-mates and ask for a bit more help.

Leeds will always create chances, but on any day when they’re not taking them, the defence are under immense pressure to be flawless.

White might be a Premier League player in the making, he’s certainly coped with everything thrown his way up until now but an expectation of perfection is a step too far.