AFTER seeing Leeds United fall to a sixth defeat from their last eight games, Lee Sobot looks at a few key talking points from Saturday’s 2-1 derby day loss at Championship hosts Sheffield United.
New head coach Paul Heckingbottom made the first team selection of his Whites tenure at Bramall Lane and the former Barnsley boss opted to change United’s formation from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-1-4-1.
In essence, that basically meant an extra midfielder sitting behind the central pairing at the expense of a no 10 role.
But Leeds were extremely disappointing in the first half and the Whites looked much better after the break after the introduction of first Pablo Hernandez just before the interval and then the returning Caleb Ekuban who was sent upfront to partner Pierre-Michel Lasogga in the latter stages in a 4-4-2, the signs of which were promising.
A 4-1-4-1 may well work for Heckingbottom’s Leeds but under that system it is even more imperative that United’s wide men have very good games.
That, sadly, was absolutely not the case with either Kemar Roofe and Gjanni Alioski.
Matters only improved after Hernandez came on for the injured/dazed Roofe and one of Hernandez or Samuel Saiz starting, if not both, looks imperative to United’s cause.
At least the Whites now only have one more game with Saiz banned.
Eunan O’Kane as captain
Heckingbottom made another big call by bringing O’Kane back into the side from suspension and even making the Republic Of Ireland international captain.
With O’Kane playing as the defensive central midfielder behind Kalvin Phillips and Adam Forshaw, that meant Ronaldo Vieira was surprisingly left on the bench as part of another big call.
But Forshaw was the only centre midfielder to have a decent game and Vieira surely needs to be starting, with him and Forshaw looking United’s best two centre midfielders at present.
Forshaw looks like being a very good acquisition.
O’Kane endured a game to forget on his return from suspension with his header falling to Billy Sharp to rocket home the early Blades opener.
The midfielder then conceded the penalty which led to Sharp’s winner though it looked a softly-awarded spot kick with contact between O’Kane and John Fleck minimal.
Other referees might also have taken a different view of Lee Evans’ foul on Gjanni Alioski in the first half for which the Blades player was booked.
Nonetheless, Saturday’s defeat leaves further big question marks about United’s midfield, the pecking order and also who should be captain with Liam Cooper not back from suspension until the clash at Derby County a week on Wednesday.
Getting the best out of Pierre-Michel Lasogga
As well as the displays of Hernandez and Forshaw and decent shifts from centre-backs Pontus Jansson and Matthew Pennington, the performance of Lasogga was another small crumb of comfort to take away from the derby day loss at Bramall Lane.
The big German striker is never going to be the most mobile of forwards but Lasogga is definitely a good finisher and he looks over the run of poor form that he was experiencing around the turn of the new year.
The striker produced an excellent headed finish to get Leeds level two minutes after the break and it’s just a shame that such a good goal after a corking cross from Hernandez eventually counted for nothing.
Lasogga also went close with a couple of decent long shots and his work rate and general effect on the game was a step in the right direction.
Whether Lasogga will be around at Leeds long term remains to be seen given his big wage at parent club Hamburg but the 26-year-old will certainly be here for the rest of the season and making the most of his finishing and thus creating plenty of chances for the forward is crucial to United’s cause, be that as a lone striker or in a 4-4-2 with either Ekuban, Roofe or Tyler Roberts when he is finally ready to feature.
Leeds at least created a few more chances after the break and Heckingbottom seemed pleased with United’s second half display whilst admittedly very disappointed with the first.
The head coach must now decide what side to select for Sunday’s Elland Road clash with Bristol City who currently occupy the last play-offs place and sit eight points in front of Leeds.
Victory in that game quite clearly looks essential and based on what we saw on Saturday, Hernandez and Vieira need to start and even possibly Ekuban should Heckingbottom opt for a 4-4-2.
With Hadi Sacko coming on at Bramall Lane but again having no end product, It is not difficult to argue that Pawel Cibicki could also be given a go instead of Alioski or Roofe.
Mr Reliable Stuart Dallas
Northern Ireland international Dallas is another option for Leeds out wide and a good one at that.
Without the suspensions and injuries in defence at present, the 26-year-old would likely be starting on one of the wings at present yet Dallas was required for another unfamiliar shift at right back with Luke Ayling and Gaetano Berardi both missing.
Fair play to Dallas who has got his head down and got on with things and the Northern Ireland international actually had a pretty steady game considering he was playing out of position.
But the sooner he is freed up as another wing option the better.
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