From Leeds United’s point of view you can assess the past month in terms of performances and results and I’m struggling to find much fault with either. But what really pleases me, what I think stands out more than anything else, is the sight of round pegs in round holes.
There are good players at Leeds and there were good players here even when it was all going wrong in August. The fundamental difference now – aside from the very obvious changes like Pontus Jansson coming in and walking all over the opposition – is that the same players are playing in their actual positions. Right across the team it makes sense to me. Nobody is being asked to ‘do a job’ or have a go at a role they don’t really suit.
It’s hard to say for sure why Garry Monk went 4-4-2 in the first month of the season but I guess it probably came down to pressure – pressure for results and pressure from some quarters to get two strikers into his team. It’s the most simple solution when a team aren’t winning games, but for me, 4-4-2 has its complications. The midfield is so crucial these days and with two players in there you risk getting overrun. If that happens, it doesn’t really matter how much talent is roundabout because too much time is spent chasing the ball. That was true of games like Fulham and Huddersfield.
In the current system, the 4-2-3-1 set-up, Pablo Hernandez is starting to really influence things. I watched the team closely against Barnsley and I noticed that every time a player had the ball at their feet, they got their head up and looked to find Hernandez straight away. All the time they were trying to feed him and it wouldn’t surprise me if one part of Monk’s instructions is to get possession to Hernandez whenever possible and then come alive off him. Hadi Sacko can make runs, Stuart Dallas can make runs and in between them you’ve got Hernandez trying to dictate things. That’s exactly what a number 10 is there to do and after a slow start he’s looking the part.
Because of that, we’re starting to see an actual spine develop. The two centre-halves, Jansson and Kyle Bartley, have been outstanding since they came together and I love their attitude. They’re not bothered about playing football, they’re not bothered about bringing the ball out – which isn’t to suggest that they can’t do either. Their first thought is simply to defend like hell and it’s a long time since Leeds had a partnership like that at the back.
But I’m encouraged by the so-called flair players too. Dallas is getting back to his best, as he needed to do. That’s been good to see. And as for Sacko, I think we have to accept that he’s a combination of a potential match-winner and a player with flaws to iron out. Wingers are very often like that.
In his defence, I’d back him one-on-one against any left-back in the Championship. I doubt a single player in that position has the pace to beat him hands-down over 40 or 50 yards. Because of that, he’s going to win you games and he’s going to do things which the opposition can’t cope with. On the downside there’ll be days where his service leaves a lot to be desired but when all’s said and done, the football you can coach. Pace is different. You’ve either got it or you haven’t.
Service, while we mention it, is one of the main areas for improvement in my eyes. Be it corners, free-kicks or crosses from open play, we’re lucky if more than one out of every three deliveries is beating the first man. That lets defences off the hook and makes nothing of good attacking positions and I’m sure Monk will see that as something where Leeds can be more dangerous. After all, stick Jansson and Bartley in the box and other teams have got a lot to deal with. Chris Wood’s a big presence too.
Really, though, I’m splitting hairs because the last month has been very impressive.
Because of it, people are now asking me where I think the club will finish this season. December-January is the time to answer that but what I do know is that the team look like they believe they’ll win every game.
They’re confident in what they’re doing and confident in the way we’re moving forward. You can see it in the body language and you can feel it in the air. Which is another way of saying that this season could be a very good one.