Four-three-three was Uwe Rosler’s philosophy and Leeds United’s work in the summer transfer market was carried out with that formation in mind.
The system sits less comfortably with Steve Evans and the Scot expressed his preference for 4-4-2 in the days after he replaced Rosler as head coach.
“We’ll have a go and we’ll try to win matches,” Evans promised. “Managers say they play 4-3-3 but we all know it’s 4-5-1 with most men behind the ball.”
He qualified his statement by conceding that there would be “times when we have to play that way” and this weekend might well be one. With results on the slide and the club’s league position worsening, a five-man midfield is one of Evans’ options for the visit of Hull City on Saturday.
Greg Abbott, the former United youth-team coach and now a radio pundit, watched Leeds succumb to Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road and drew the conclusion that a change of formation could be necessary before the meeting with fourth-placed Hull. For two games running, Evans’ midfield have found themselves chasing the ball.
“Steve’s generally a 4-4-2 man and we know that’s how he likes to play,” Abbott said. “But this isn’t Steve’s group of players. With the exception of Liam Bridcutt, he didn’t put this squad together.
“To play his system he needs a certain squad and I’m not sure that this group are suited to 4-4-2. In terms of the midfield, it’s the one area of the squad where Leeds have bodies and options. It’s the area where they should be able to dominate and keep people fresh.
“Lewis Cook hasn’t been influential in the last few games, or not as influential as he can be. Alex Mowatt’s on the left but he’s coming in-field all the time, looking for his natural position. It means that from one side of the field the front two aren’t getting any service. Three in the middle between two wingers would tighten things up and leave you with something up front.
“Steve was brutally honest after the QPR game and fair play to him for that. He didn’t let the players off the hook for that performance and I don’t think he’ll allow them to think that they’re not in any rouble. The club need results and they need some consistency. He might have to think about going five in midfield this weekend.”
Rosler dabbled with 4-4-2 occasionally but was more inclined to field Chris Wood as a loan striker, even when pressure came to bear in the his final weeks as head coach.
Leeds were short of goals throughout and scored 10 in Rosler’s 11 games in charge. The German promised “heavy metal” football but was accused by owner Massimo Cellino of being too cautious in the end. “We were trying not to lose,” Cellino said after Rosler’s last match ended in a 2-1 defeat to Brighton. “We were not trying to win. That is not good enough.”
United’s performance at QPR on Saturday rarely gave them much chance of victory. Wood missed a glaring chance in the first half but a late shot from Lee Erwin was their only shot on target.
Evans was critical of individual players and left no doubt that changes would be made against Hull. The 53-year-old hopes to have captain Sol Bamba back from a toe injury and his bench at QPR included Sam Byram, Tom Adeyemi and Jordan Botaka. But his failure to land a striker in the emergency loan market – despite approaches for Norwich City’s Kyle Lafferty, Swansea City’s Marvin Emnes and Middlesbrough’s Kike – leaves Wood as the only realistic choice as a lone forward.
Abbott, who coached Carlisle for five years and was recently considered for the manager’s job at York City, said: “It’s the same with any manager – it’s very difficult to judge them fairly until they’ve had a bit of time in the job and, more importantly, signed a few of their own players.
“I’m not saying that Leeds don’t have good players but a lot of them were brought in by a different coach with different ideas and a different style of play. Steve would want to do what he knows best but I looked at the midfield getting overrun at QPR and I honestly felt that an extra body in there would help.
“I’m all for attacking football but the club have got to get a few results and they can’t afford to keep losing games. QPR wasn’t good enough and I’m 100 per cent sure we’ll see changes of some sort for Hull.”
The most contentious call for Evans this weekend will be his choice of right-back. United’s boss has preferred Scott Wootton to Byram – omitting Byram in part because of the youngster’s contractual dispute with Leeds – but a poor performance from Wootton provoked criticism of Evans from the away crowd at Loftus Road, many of whom chanted for Byram in the second half.
Evans insisted afterwards that the right-back position was not a fundamental issue and Abbott said: “I agree with that. I’ve always rated Sam and he’s a really good player but I don’t think the future of the team or this season is going to be determined by who plays there.
“We’re all starting to realise that the squad isn’t good enough. There are good players in there, no doubt at all, but it’s missing key components and it’s missing leadership. If and when he gets to January, Steve will try and change that but for now he’s got to find a way of making the most of this month.”