Leeds United leader safe from from Elland Road chopping block despite risky Premier League decision

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Michael Skubala's job at Leeds United this week is the same as it was last week - to keep his head when all about him are losing theirs.

At some point the caretaker might permit himself a moment to ponder how on earth he found himself here. Leeds as a club will do the same.

A year ago Marcelo Bielsa, formerly of Argentina, Chile, Athletic Bilbao and Marseille, the man whose appointment can be considered Andrea Radrizzani, Victor Orta and Angus Kinnear's masterstroke, was still in place as head coach of the Whites. Skubala was coaching England's Under 18s, having enjoyed a successful spell as the national futsal team manager.

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Today, ahead of a potentially season-defining pair of games against fellow struggles Everton and Southampton, Skubala finds himself holding the role that was not so long ago in the grasp of, in Pep Guardiola's famous words, 'the best in the world'. Leeds find themselves putting their trust in Skubala, without any of the replacements they had in mind when they sacked Jesse Marsch last Monday.

What has happened here? How has it happened? As fascinating as those questions might be, no one at Leeds can afford to give them the time of day right now. Just as Skubala last week, with next to no time to prepare for a double header against Manchester United, focused solely on where he was, rather than how he got there, Leeds have got to deal exclusively with the situation they're in and waste no energy on how it came about.

At Thorp Arch it has been all hands on deck, with academy manager Adam Underwood and head of emerging talent Craig Dean throwing their support behind Skubala. Players, said to have enjoyed the calm brought to a recently intense and fraught environment, can do nothing but give their all - as they did twice against the Red Devils. The risk and the potential consequences if this season continues to go awry are not lost on anyone, at any level.

It truly is a season on a knife edge and the decision to stick with Skubala will either be judged as very brave or very foolish, and it will be judged on the results of the next two games.

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With that decision made, and explained, insofar as the club considers Skubala appropriate and capable in a scenario where the managers they want are not immediately available and any interim worth their salt is going to demand a deal far beyond the summer period when an Andoni Iraola, Arne Slot or Marcelo Gallardo might be a real possibility, all they can ask of fans is to park the post mortem until these two games are no longer alive with possibility.

DECISION MADE - Leeds United elected to stick with Michael Skubala for the upcoming games against Everton and Southampton and could keep him in post if results go well. Pic: GettyDECISION MADE - Leeds United elected to stick with Michael Skubala for the upcoming games against Everton and Southampton and could keep him in post if results go well. Pic: Getty
DECISION MADE - Leeds United elected to stick with Michael Skubala for the upcoming games against Everton and Southampton and could keep him in post if results go well. Pic: Getty

That will be a difficult ask for some as it is, and a defeat at Goodison Park on Saturday will make it nigh on impossible for many. At this stage and in the next two games, positive performances won't cut it, only positive results. Playing well without winning was largely acceptable against Manchester United because those games did not represent the most crucial battlefront for Leeds this season. They were never expected to take anything, so even that point at Old Trafford was a bonus. The applause as the Whites left the pitch at Elland Road, after more than matching the Red Devils for 80 minutes with a distinct improvement from the Nottingham Forest display, it said much about the expectation.

Everton and Southampton are an entirely different story. These games have to be won, so the response should they go the wrong way will be predictably thermonuclear. There will be no hiding from it for the board, because Skubala must be considered largely blameless in the circumstances and with the hand he has been dealt. Being thrust into the Premier League limelight, mid-season, with Leeds so close to the drop zone, was never his plan. It was never anyone's plan, until suddenly it was. And should the worst case scenario present itself against the Toffees and Saints, and Leeds reassess what they need for the first team, Skubala can only find himself back in a job he was thoroughly enjoying and doing well at.

His willingness to take this on and the manner with which he's dealt with such a hand, so far, should be credited. However this turns out, he wants to go back to his role as 21s boss, he’s been insistent upon that and this new task should not be allowed to chew him up and spit him out, as it has other caretakers at other clubs. No one of a sound and reasonable mind could turn on him, here. Wherever you come to rest on this situation at Leeds, this unbelievable situation, Skubala has not said or done anything that will deprive him of anyone's support at Goodison. There's even an opportunity for him to be a unifying figure, given his underdog status on the touchline next to Sean Dyche.

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There are many ways to take a reading on a manager's suitability for a job and the fans are one of those, as Alfred Screuder discovered earlier this week. The players are another. Professional footballers on Premier League wages should need no further encouragement or motivation to try their utmost, yet it's easy to wonder if being described as 'excited' rather than stressed or fearful helps create an atmosphere conducive to producing their best work. It stands to reason that a calm voice, short, simple messaging and a large degree of trust might go down well and the same could be said for greater width, in a squad boasting so many wide players, and a more composed way of delivering the ball to the final third. The ultimate barometer for Skubala’s ability in this role will be results.

It's a risk, of course, a massive one, but Leeds are trusting that Skubala has in his head a plan worthy of six points in these games and the squad available to him is certainly good enough. It's a big job. The pressure is on. But no matter how the next week pans out he can at least content himself on Friday when he lays his head on his pillow that it's not on the block.