Leeds United’s defeats to Hull City and Nottingham Forest may just be the blessing in disguise needed to help Marcelo Bielsa’s squad kick on in the new year.
The Championship is a tough place and to win seven games on the bounce is a remarkable feat.
Leeds though are bound to have games where they don’t hit their rhythm and the last one that stood out before the trip to the City Ground was West Brom.
The last couple of games, if you’re looking at it in a positive light, will make sure that expectations remain realistic and that they stay in check.
Bielsa is always quite frank and honest after games which is refreshing.
He knows exactly what Leeds need to learn from both defeats – particularly the Nottingham Forest game – and as much as Hull elevated their performance at Elland Road it’s clear they’re still prone to the odd match where they can’t quite haul themselves up to the standards they have set.
The good thing that can come from this little run of bad results is that it gives the whole squad a bit of a reality check.
As a former player you know that there’s nothing worse than losing games and it will make them knuckle down and work harder as they go into the new year and it won’t always be last-minute winners, late resurrections and incredible comebacks like we saw over Christmas.
I actually went to the Hull game at Elland Road and took my little lad with me.
With him being small we left a bit early to get him home but I had a few fans joking that I was going to miss the comeback!
As much as they were having me on, you can see the belief that Bielsa has instilled at Leeds in such a short space of time and how it transmits onto the pitch.
Obviously with the Forest game there were extenuating circumstances with Kalvin Phillips being sent off but against Hull it felt like the perfect time for them to play Leeds. They’re on a good run of form themselves, which was backed up by their 6-0 demolition of Bolton at the weekend and, with the volume of games over the festive period, it was clear there was a bit of fatigue and Nigel Adkins’ game-plan played into that.
Moving onto the Forest game, I think Adam Forshaw came out afterwards immediately and held his hands up for his mistake that led to the opener.
Barry Douglas apologised too for his drop in form, as did Phillips for his red card, and I think from all three it’s a sign of how much they respect the fans that have travelled and the standards they want to reach.
There was no pressure on them to do that and a lot of players like to keep their heads down after a ‘bad day at the office’ but I think they deserve some credit for it.
Over the course of a season you can forgive the odd poor performance as long as they come back from it.
Phillips’ red card in particular was another for me that falls into that grey area.
You could probably have got away with that a few years ago but even now when you go full blooded into a challenge with your feet off the ground and win the ball cleanly, you run the risk of the referee having to make a decision.
Kalvin has a great bite about the way he plays the game. I don’t mean that in a nasty sense, but he has a good aggression about him and you always need a couple of those types of players – the ones who can assert themselves physically on a game. I think they should have enough in the bank over the course of the season for the fans to ride out these last few games.
In terms of recruitment you just have to look at those players that are injured. The likes of Liam Cooper, Stuart Dallas, Patrick Bamford, Gaetano Berardi and Izzy Brown will all be hoping to make their comebacks in the next few weeks.
If you were to offer any of those players to Leeds’ rivals they’d all snap your hand off.
The issue is whether they can keep them fit and maybe that’s the way Bielsa and Victor Orta are looking at it. The young lads that have been called upon have done extremely well and with those players coming back maybe they believe they have enough to see this through now.
I think Bielsa has said this previously but if a player became available that can improve his starting XI then that’s something they may discuss.
But if you can get those five on the pitch, they’re all top-quality Championship players.
The goalkeeping position is obviously the big talking point at the moment and I think, on the whole, young Bailey Peacock-Farrell has done well.
There has been a few times where I think everyone has questioned parts of his game, Marcelo himself admitted he would’ve been dropped if not for Jamal Blackman’s injury, but he seems to have reacted really well to it and that togetherness in the squad appears to have pulled him through.
Again, it’s a case of whether they can get someone in with a bit of experience behind them and fit into the style that Bielsa has implemented.
The ones that really jump out are probably playing between the sticks somewhere else but if they do manage to bring a goalkeeper in then there will be a lot of pressure on them to hit the ground running and be as reliable as needed.