Leeds United: Antenucci revelling in two up-front system

Mirco Antenucci.
Mirco Antenucci.
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One player who stood to benefit from the sacking of Uwe Rosler was Mirco Antenucci. Despite his form and several good turns for Rosler, Antenucci fell into the category of footballers who didn’t quite fit the German’s mould.

His regular omission from Leeds United’s line-up was never personal.

Rosler liked to use a lone striker and Antenucci rarely thrives in that role.

According to Rosler, the Italian made it clear at the start of the summer that he had no intention of playing out wide.

“When I came here he said to me straight away ‘gaffer, don’t play me on the wing’,” Rosler said. That request was granted.

Under Steve Evans, Rosler’s successor as head coach, Antenucci will see less of the bench.

Evans is committed to a formation led by two strikers and Antenucci has started both of his two games in charge.

Inches away from forcing a late win at Fulham last week, Antenucci’s penalty earned a 1-1 draw at Bolton Wanderers on Saturday.

There has been a sense throughout the season that Leeds carry more threat when Antenucci partners Chris Wood up front.

Antenucci himself believes Evans’ formation is better-suited to the Championship, even though visits to Fulham and Bolton yielded only two points.

“A lot of teams play 4-4-2 in the Championship,” Antenucci said. “Maybe 20 teams. It’s a balanced system.

“With two strikers you can be more dangerous.”

The 31-year-old contributed to a dominant performance at Fulham last Wednesday, denied a winning goal in the 90th minute by a fine save from goalkeeper Joe Lewis.

Saturday’s trip to Bolton was less controlled and less convincing but Antenucci averted defeat by winning and converting a penalty 19 minutes from time.

Speaking afterwards, the forward claimed his impact was a direct result of a return to United’s starting line-up.

“That’s normal when you play every match,” he said. “It’s difficult when you play only 15 minutes. I’m happy because we played good (at Bolton).”

Rosler started Antenucci in just four of the 11 league games he oversaw as head coach.

Antenucci came off the bench to score in 1-1 draws against Burnley and Brentford and was central to a 2-2 draw at Bristol City in August – a match in which United lost a 2-0 lead.

But Rosler’s refusal to start him in his final game in charge, despite promising telling changes to his approach, confirmed that the German’s commitment to 4-3-3 was absolute.

Owner Massimo Cellino sacked Rosler on the back of a 2-1 defeat to Brighton on October 17.

Evans was appointed immediately and thrown into a schedule of two away games in six days last week.

“The manager has had a great impact,” Antenucci said. “He’s had no time to work because the matches have been close together. Now we have the time to work.

“I think there has been a big improvement. We’ve created a lot of chances.

“Before we had a problem with that in some matches. In some matches we put in high balls and it was difficult for the strikers.”

Antenucci and Wood are, as expected, United’s leading scorers this season, Wood with five goals and Antenucci with four.

The strikerate of others around them, however, highlights one of the problems which Evans is dealing with.

No other player has scored twice and only three – Charlie Taylor, Tom Adeyemi and Liam Cooper – have scored in league fixtures at all.

Evans intends to do business in the remainder of the emergency loan market and the signing of another striker is a priority for him.

So too a goalkeeper with Marco Silvestri guilty of errors and devoid of any experienced competition after Ross Turnbull underwent ankle surgery.

Leeds looked at Norwich City forward Kyle Lafferty, the Northern Ireland international, earlier in the season and Lafferty remains largely uninvolved at Carrow Road.

United were linked with their former striker Luciano Becchio over the weekend – a free agent after injury saw him cut short a spell with Argentine club Belgrano – but sources at Elland Road have played down the possibility of re-signing him.

The encouragement for Evans, as Antenucci suggested, is that Leeds had chances in their first two games under him.

Adeyemi hit a post in both halves at Bolton and Chris Wood failed to convert a glaring opportunity from six yards before the interval.

“We missed chances at key stages,” said Evans afterwards.

Antenucci was more upbeat, despite the failure to beat a Bolton side who are bottom of the Championship.

Neil Lennon’s side were reduced to 10 men for the final 19 minutes after Prince incurred a red card by conceding United’s penalty with a trip on Antenucci but Leeds found no way of cutting open Bolton’s defence for a second time.

“We feel optimistic as it was a tough match,” Antenucci said.

“We created a lot of chances and we hit the post twice through Tom.

“It’s just two points from two matches but we played well at Fulham and (at Bolton).

“I think we have to keep going this way.”