AFTER seeing Leeds United slip to a fifth league loss from their last seven games, Lee Sobot looks at a few talking points from Friday night’s Yorkshire derby defeat to the Blades at Elland Road.
How will this all end?
Whites head coach Thomas Christiansen was keen to stress that Leeds were still in a reasonable position despite Friday night’s loss which left United fourth and clinging on to their play-off place ahead of Saturday’s games.
Despite a fifth league loss from their last seven games, the Whites remained in the play-offs, just, but before Saturday’s games Leeds were only two points clear of the teams outside of the top six and six points behind the top two, plus second-placed Wolves had a game in hand.
The gap to the top two could therefore be seven points - to new leaders Sheffield United as it stood on Friday night.
That gap is far from insurmountable after just 14 games played but worryingly Leeds would be just 17th in the Championship form table taken over the last seven games with six points. Hardly play-offs form, never mind automatic.
To coin a phrase, over 14 games, we have already seen the very good, the bad and the ugly with this Leeds side and where United will end up this season is anyone’s guess.
Leeds are 12-1 to finish in the top two which suggests unlikely but just 7-4 to finish in the play-offs though eight teams are rated more likely by the country’s bookmakers, including Tuesday night’s visitors Derby.
What’s for certain is that Christiansen could do with at least one win from United’s two games before the international break with Leeds visiting Brentford next weekend.
After that? Garry Monk’s Middlesbrough side.
Why have Leeds become so inconsistent?
Confidence should have been high going into Friday night’s clash against the Blades following last weekend’s excellent 3-0 win at a Bristol City side who had not lost in 12 games.
Leeds were clearly taking on an even better side in Sheffield United but the Whites were woeful in the first half and still asleep two minutes into the game which allowed Billy Sharp to give the Blades an early and in the end crucial lead.
Christiansen admitted his men were “still in the changing rooms” as Sharp scored and that his side’s first half performance in particular was unacceptable.
The question is why as Christiansen’s side is undoubtedly capable of better.
Christiansen hinted that he might go three at the back for Friday night’s derby with the head coach missing two full back options in the suspended Gaetano Berardi and injured Cameron Borthwick-Jackson.
Furthermore, going three at the back would have matched Sheffield United’s style of play.
As it was, the Dane stuck to his 4-2-3-1 system with Kalvin Phillips playing in the no 10 role which suited so well at Bristol City as Samu Saiz and Gjanni Alioski took the spots on the wings.
But while Leeds did improve for a period after the interval, the Whites created next to nothing in a very disappointing first half in which they were rescued by a brilliant volley from Phillips.
Upfront, lone striker Pierre-Michel Lasogga barely got a sniff with the German failing to get involved.
On Friday’s evidence, Christiansen must surely be tempted to change his system for Tuesday night’s hosting of Derby for which there are plenty of calls to start two upfront, or put Saiz back in the no 10 role.
Should Pontus Jansson be starting?
Jansson was surprisingly dropped for last weekend’s win at Bristol City after admitting himself that his recent performances had left a fair bit to be desired.
The Swede then looked to be facing a tall order to get back into the team after centre-backs Liam Cooper and Matthew Pennington helped Leeds to a clean sheet at Ashton Gate with relative ease.
But it was a different story altogether against the rampant Blades who would have scored four or five but for some fine stops from Andy Lonergan.
Pennington was particularly disappointing and Jansson was given a chance early in the second half when Cooper had to be substituted with a dead leg.
Jansson’s form has clearly been rocky of late but the Swede is still easily United’s most talented centre-back and it is not difficult to argue that the 26-year-old should be one of the first names on the team sheet.
Conor Shaughnessy, who performed with great credit in Tuesday night’s Carabao Cup exit at Leicester City, also gives Christiansen another option at centre back and one the Dane should be seriously looking to explore,
Christiansen’s other options
Christiansen will surely be tempted to make other changes to his side following Friday’s loss and Pablo Hernandez, the returning Stuart Dallas and Kemar Roofe are the most obvious calls as far as United’s offensive players are concerned.
In addition to the prospect of playing Roofe upfront, Caleb Ekuban’s imminent return from injury will also give Christiansen another option to Lasogga in attack in addition to Jay-Roy Grot who still looks raw and with plenty to learn.
Hadi Sacko, Pawel Cibicki and Mateusz Klich are other options but none of that trio failed to even make the bench on Friday after failing to shine against Leicester.
Phillips will be suspended for Tuesday night’s clash with Derby so Hernandez will likely be brought in as a result and perhaps Dallas or Roofe should replace Gjanni Alioski out wide.
What is certain is that United’s attack needs to be built around Saiz.