David Prutton: Leeds United quality is there but physical and mental demands key to promotion quest

LEEDS UNITED have got to be very mindful of where they are in the Championship battle and of bouncing back from last weekend’s loss to Norwich.

Friday, 8th February 2019, 2:57 pm
Updated Saturday, 9th February 2019, 9:35 am
NO TIME TO LOOK BACK: Leeds United fall 1-0 down in the 3-1 loss at home to Norwich City.

I was talking to Gary Rowett the other day and we were talking about where Derby were this time last year. They were second and ended up losing in the play-offs.

That’s now four defeats in six for Leeds and to fall away at this stage of the season would be galling, because of the pace they have maintained so far.

But Marcelo Bielsa doesn’t strike me as the sort of manager that is going to pull back the reins. He wants to go full throttle to the end of the season and they have got the right man in charge to be able to push them on. It’s just being able to cope with the demands both physically and mentally.

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Leeds would have been six points clear had they beaten Norwich, yet instead the two sides are now level on points.

If you look at Leeds’ display in the first half they enjoyed a lot of possession and they were testing the goalkeeper from distance but with nothing too clear-cut or close.

Pontus Jansson’s foul then gave away the free-kick that led to the first goal and the second goal was just bizarre.

Defensively, Leeds were all over the place which is something we have not been used to under Bielsa and then in the second half Norwich played pretty much perfect counter-attacking football.

You had to turn around and say that Norwich were very good and played it in exactly the right way. I have seen both teams this season and it was impressive from Norwich’s point of view.

They have added to their team with Emiliano Buendia and Teemu Pukki and who could have forseen Pukki coming in on a free transfer after leaving Celtic and Brondby and scoring as many goals as he has done?

You have got to applaud the recruitment from that point of view but what Daniel Farke has managed to do with a similar group of players, just like Bielsa has done with Leeds, is phenomenal really.

Leeds have got to take it on the chin and make sure they put it right this weekend in another tough game at Middlesbrough because this is what it’s going to be like from now until the end of the season.

It’s not just about the teams they are playing against now, it’s that finite number of games which are counting down.

You have climbed to the top of the hill, you are on the way down the other side and the finish line is looming in sight.

It’s not right there in front of you but it’s close enough to make you wary of how many games are left and not picking up points.

The transfer window is shut and there is no loan window but Marcelo declared himself happy with his squad.

I wouldn’t have said it last season, but because of how they have performed this season, I think that when the squad is fully fit they have got a group of players that can go toe to toe with anyone in the division.

They need to worry about that, but the demands that are going to be placed on the players both physically and mentally will be a true test of whether they are a team, a squad and a group of men that are capable of getting promotion.

Victory for Middlesbrough today would put Boro one point behind Leeds – if they were to win their game in hand – and I’m sure Leeds will have that in the back of their minds.

But in the forefront of their minds should be the fact that they can beat Middlesbrough if they play as well as they can do.

We know how good Boro are defensively and they had a result last weekend in scoring three goals at West Brom which was very out of the ordinary and very un-Middlesbrough-like.

Leeds can be more than a match for them but it’s just about being fresh enough in the mind and in the body to be able to go up against them and play as well as they possibly can do.

Hopefully, they will view the Norwich game as a bit of a reality check and a bit of a wake up call.

Patrick Bamford is set to finally make his full league debut for Leeds against Middlesbrough and that’s a great boost. He’s a player that has operated at this level and scored a lot of goals when he is fit.

He offers them something different to what Kemar Roofe does and if you look at it from a financial point of view, it was a hell of an investment Leeds made in Bamford on which they haven’t seen the biggest return so far.

The light is now shining on Bamford between now and the end of the season to stay fit.

Marcelo said he’d need games for the under-23s before playing for the first team but then went against that with Bamford coming back in against Norwich.

But with the way these 23s games have gone from an injury point of view, I would be leaning towards keeping the first-team players and the ones that cost the most, away from those games.

The timing of Bamford coming back is exactly what Leeds United need really.

Having Bamford and Roofe in the same team will be something slightly different and fingers crossed that combination works and that Bamford brings the kind of work rate and the intense way of pressing the opposition that Kemar has managed to bring into his game this season and leads from the front.

Leeds need that and they need that reaction after the game and the result against Norwich.