Leeds United: Aggression key to ‘new-look’ Whites

Pablo Hernandez in recent action against Sheffield Wednesday.
Pablo Hernandez in recent action against Sheffield Wednesday.
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THE LEEDS United shirt – and badge – has been a rich topic of conversation over the years, and certainly in the current campaign.

What will the new badge look like? Why is our away shirt not yellow?

Gaetano Berardi was given the captain's armband against Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Gaetano Berardi was given the captain's armband against Wolverhampton Wanderers.

But, on the eve of the deadline of the club’s price freeze on season tickets, head coach Paul Heckingbottom wants to create a clear identity and aggressive stance with his side that would be apparent “in any different colour kit”.

Heckingbottom and Leeds have just eight games remaining of a current Championship campaign which promised to offer so much both in the summer and after seven games.

Chairman Andrea Radrizzani admitted a play-off place was the ultimate aim for the season after United agonisingly missed out by finishing seventh last year and Leeds looked well poised when leading the division following five victories and two draws from their first seven games played.

Six months later, United have dropped all the way down to 14th and 12 points off the play-offs.

Caleb Ekuban, seeking his 'touch'.

Caleb Ekuban, seeking his 'touch'.

Even with eight games left, there is a distinct feeling that United’s season is over bar the shouting but this week presents a hugely important one for the club as a whole with a view to next season.

Current season-ticket holders have until the end of Good Friday to take advantage of United’s offer to freeze the price of season tickets, and plenty of fans are naturally curious as to what they can expect next year.

Managing director Angus Kinnear has already confirmed a few points – that the club can understand that “supporter sentiment has been dented” but that “lessons have been learnt” and that next season’s clear aim will be to achieve a play-off place, something the club feel is “achievable based on our resources and the scale of our fan base”.

The percentage of that fan base taking up the club’s offer of a price freeze on season tickets will be decided in the next two days. Heckingbottom naturally knows that United’s loyal following will want to know what to expect, and the head coach is keen on instilling a more aggressive approach – especially without the ball – and creating a clear identity that would be strikingly obvious to all.

Questioned as to what United’s fans could expect next season in terms of changes to his side, Heckingbottom told the YEP: “In terms of changes and things like that, we will have to wait and see what happens in the summer.

“My focus is on between now and the end of the season, working with the players who are here and who are going to be here next season and trying to embed what we want to see next season which is a much more aggressive team, especially without the ball.

“At times, with the ball, we have seen throughout the course of this season that we can be a really dangerous team.

“But I also want to be aggressive to create dangerous opportunities for ourselves in how aggressive we are in winning the ball back and where we win the ball back and how good we become at that because it’s not something that we are great at naturally. But we have to get better at that because it’s a big part of the game.

“And then there’s how aggressive we are in defending leads and defending our box and the mentality of it and how that looks on the pitch.

“It’s people dying for the cause, that type of thing, a mentality to perform your role as best you possibly can, with and without the ball and becoming a really tough team to play against.

“You want a team to represent yourself on the pitch and be really visible. So if you imagine that you put a Leeds team out in a different colour kit, everybody would know it was our Leeds team. When we get to that point, that’s when I will be really pleased and comfortable.”

Heckingbottom and United’s next task will be to make life uncomfortable for Good Friday’s Championship visitors Bolton Wanderers.

The head coach’s preparations for the game were not helped by having a host of players either on international duty or needing treatment for injuries during the international break. With United having already arranged a friendly with Notts County last Wednesday to provide much-needed game time to those players who needed it, Heckingbottom was left with just four players in training last Wednesday in the shape of Pablo Hernandez, Caleb Ekuban, Gaetano Berardi and Matthew Pennington. At least it was a decent balance of players used to plying their trades at opposite ends of the pitch.

“It was attack versus defence,” quipped Heckingbottom.

And the head coach recognises there is plenty of work to do if United are to fulfil next season’s objectives, with Heckingbottom evidently targeting improvement in one area in particular.

Heckingbottom said: “At the minute, when things are going well and we are moving the ball, well I know people who talk about Leeds and say ‘they can be dangerous doing this, this and this.’ But in my eyes, as it stands at the minute, when we are not, that’s where we are falling short.

“So we have to then still be a dangerous team in how aggressive we are at winning the ball back and how determined we are to defend our half of the pitch. They are the things that we need to implement for next season.”