AFTER seeing Leeds United move back into the Championship’s play-offs with a 1-0 victory at home to Hull City, the YEP’s Lee Sobot looks at a few key talking points from Saturday’s clash at Elland Road.
Can Leeds hunt down Cardiff?
United need to first and foremost ensure they stay in the play-offs and Boxing Day’s trip to Burton Albion provides a timely reminder of how a top six berth can soon slip through a club’s fingers.
Whilst Leeds have now climbed to fifth, the Whites are only one point clear of seventh-placed Sheffield United with another two points back to eighth-placed Preston North End and another one point gap to ninth-placed Middlesbrough and tenth-placed Ipswich Town.
It should be remembered that Leeds had an eight-point cushion to those teams outside of the play-offs with eight games to go last term and still missed out.
But having picked up 13 points out of a last possible 15, there is definite momentum with United at present and second-placed Cardiff City’s 2-0 loss at Bolton Wanderers has allowed the Whites to cut the gap to the automatic promotion places down to eight points.
That is still a sizable gap and Leeds are also five points behind second-placed Derby County and third-placed Bristol City but United’s next three fixtures are all very winnable and there is a definite opportunity to make further inroads over the next few games.
Will Samu Saiz be back for Boxing Day?
Head coach Thomas Christiansen seems to think so but if there is any element of doubt whatsoever then United’s Danish head coach would seem extremely unlikely to take any risk.
“He had a small problem in the calf,” revealed Christiansen when asked why Saiz had missed the Hull City clash.
“I didn’t want to run any risk. We have a lot of games coming up now and I need everyone.”
That meant Saiz missing his first game for Leeds since the 3-1 loss at Cardiff in September and United definitely missed the Spaniard’s pace, trickery and flair with the usual rhythm to United’s attacks missing.
That said, another Spaniard in Pablo Hernandez provided the sublime intervention that was enough to bag all three points and Hernandez is a more than able deputy in Saiz’s absence.
Saiz, though, has been Leeds’ stand out player over the first half of the season and United’s chances of cutting Burton and Saturday’s hosts Birimingham City to shreds would definitely improve with his inclusion.
Is it time to start Pierre-Michel Lasogga upfront?
Hamburg loanee Lasogga finally returned from a six-game absence through illness and a calf injury when brought on as a substitute for Kemar Roofe in the 76th minute.
Roofe, given the nod in the lone striker role, endured a frustrating afternoon, not too dissimilar to his experience in last Saturday’s 1-0 win at home to Norwich City though the previous weekend’s hat-trick at QPR still remains fresh in the memory.
But with Christiansen seeming very unlikely to change his 4-2-3-1 system and Caleb Ekuban out injured, the Dane is now effectively left with a choice of two between Roofe and Lasogga as to who starts in the lone striker role at Burton.
Lasogga fared slightly better at holding the ball up once brought on against Hull, as you would expect with his six-foot-three frame, and the German can at time look a natural finisher who almost scored with a decent long shot in the final few minutes.
But Roofe quite clearly offers much more mobility and pace and his finishing was also exemplary in the win at QPR.
There’s a feeling that Roofe might get the nod at Burton but it could be a close call and furthermore Leeds could definitely do with looking at other options in January.
Eunan O’Kane or Kalvin Phillips in centre midfield?
The Kalvin Phillips/Ronaldo Vieira axis again continued against Hull but Phillips was then taken off O’Kane during the half-time break after a first-half in which the Tigers dominated.
Christiansen revealed that the change was partly tactical and partly down to Phillips not being 100 per cent.
Leeds then definitely improved after O’Kane was introduced and Christiansen will now have to decide whether to hand the Irish international his first start since last month’s 2-0 win at Barnsley come Boxing Day’s clash at Burton.
Felix Wiedwald’s ninth clean sheet
The final words should be saved for Wiedwald who has taken plenty of flak for this season’s errors but has responded from his late howler at Loftus Road by posting back to back clean sheets.
That is now nine clean sheets from 16 league starts for Wiedwald who clearly saved United’s bacon with a few strong saves in the first half, particularly when keeping out Kamil Grosicki’s brilliant half volley in the very first minute.
Wiedwald is quite clearly prone to an error and there are plenty of areas of his game that he still needs to work on but helped by another strong defensive performance from Pontus Jansson and Liam Cooper, a ninth clean sheet of the season ultimately proved crucial against Hull.