Leeds United ran out 2-1 winners over Wigan Athletic on Sunday at the DW stadium in the Championship - but what were the key talking points? Phil Hay takes a look.
A game which underlined Barry Douglas’ influence
Good left-backs are relatively rare as a rule, and don’t Leeds United know it. That position has caused the club stress over the years and their recruitment team were positively bouncing when the signing of Barry Douglas went through in July.
It goes without saying that Douglas is an accomplished footballer. One look at his performance with Wolverhampton Wanderers last season defines him as an end-to-end player who make few defensive errors, passes with a high rate of accuracy and serves up regular assists from set-pieces and open play. But the impact of his recent absence and the manner of his return against Wigan Athletic yesterday showed how reliant Leeds are on Douglas’ presence.
There was more balance to the left side of Marcelo Biesla’s team at Wigan, even allowing for a very quiet display from Gjanni Alioski, and Douglas was tuned into the opportunistic runs of Mateusz Klich from the very start. The telepathy of United’s first goal is worth revisiting: Adam Forshaw’s movement pulling one of Wigan’s centre-backs away from the edge of the box, Klich darting into the space created by that play and Douglas anticipating Klich’s run with a measure ball to his feet. Attacks like that can only be coached and Leeds have scored many like it under Bielsa.
United’s boss spoke a couple of months ago about the fact that he had no like-for-like replacement for Kalvin Phillips. The past month has proven fairly conclusively that there is no easy way of covering for Douglas either. Leeds will thrive with Douglas in their line-up. And struggle without him
There was a marked improvement in Bielsa’s high-press yesterday and Leeds were able to wear Wigan down with multiple transitions over the halfway line. The final score did a poor job of reflecting the balance of the game.
Bielsa’s tactics are reliant on ball retention and the ability to regain possession quickly, which was one of the reasons why he focused so closely on the fitness of his squad during pre-season. But the impact of that work was displayed most clearly in video footage of a rearguard manoeuvre which captured the attention of social media after full-time.
Early in the second half, Leeds were caught upfield as Pablo Hernandez lost the ball and Wigan forward Josh Windass broke from deep. Windass attempted to run clear but was swamped by seven recovering Leeds players who wrapped him up outside their box. The sight of a surrounded Windass brought to mind the famous image of Maradona facing down six Belgium players, minus Maradona.
In contrast, Wigan’s commitment to Windass’ attack was pitiful and by the time Liam Cooper stuck a foot in to clear the ball, not a single home player was within 20 metres of it. But from Bielsa’s point of view, he can only appreciate the diligence of his side.
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A new deal for Kemar Roofe?
A tap-in against Wigan - a goal which was even easier than his handball against Nottingham Forest - took Kemar Roofe onto seven goals for the season, halfway towards his tally for the whole of last season. And the term has only just reached November.
Ian Harte, former player turned agent, tweeted afterwards that Roofe “deserved a new @LUFC deal”. So where are Leeds with improved terms for a striker whose contract ends in 2020? The club indicated that they would open talks with Roofe’s representatives after the last international break, on the back of him winning the Championship’s player-of-the-month award for August, but there has been no significant progress and Roofe is yet to receive a formal offer.
Any proposal to him would need to involve a significant pay rise, to give Roofe - a £3m signing from Oxford United in 2016 - something close to parity with a higher earner like Patrick Bamford. Roofe was linked yesterday with Wolves and Crystal Palace and will automatically attract interest from the upper end of the Championship having improved so noticeably under Bielsa.
He is Leeds’ player for another 18 months yet but as the club found with Chris Wood last year, a diminishing deal invites outside offers. Mateusz Klich is in the same boat, with his contract due to end at the same time as Roofe’s. With five goals and five assists already, Klich’s future should be on the agenda too.