FEARLESS HEAD coach Uwe Rosler says Leeds United face the toughest fixture the Championship has to offer on Sunday but insists: “I think the best defence is to attack.”
Second-placed Boro are seeking to make it amazing seven successive wins for the first time since 1995 and are as short as even money favourites to bounce back from last season’s play-off final woe by winning the division.
Eleventh-placed Leeds, meanwhile, can be backed at odds of 13-2 to repeat last season’s 1-0 victory at the Riverside but Rosler believes a lack of expectation may bring the best out of his Whites.
The German says Middlesbrough are worthy favourites to win the Championship and praised both the work of and relationship between chairman Steve Gibson and head coach Aitor Karanka – a blueprint Rosler hopes to follow at Leeds under chairman Massimo Cellino.
The club’s Italian owner expects it will be two years before United are challenging for promotion – but Rosler hopes Sunday’s daunting televised test might be the perfect recipe for Leeds to spring a surprise.
Rosler was present at the Riverside on Tuesday to witness Boro’s 3-0 defeat of Wolves in the Capital One Cup and said: “I saw Middlesbrough on Tuesday and they saved five or six first-team players.
“That was like I was watching their best team – there was no interruption in their play and their flow of play was the same like when they played against Forest.
“They have a good squad of players, quality in the first XI and quality on the bench that can came on and change games.
“They are favourites not only for this game but they are the favourites for the league and I’m not just saying that just before we play them. I think everybody in the Championship will agree with me that Karanka did a very good job and Steve Gibson is one of the best chairman in English football.
“He has really supported him and backed him and they have put a squad together which is now very close to winning promotion.
“Last year they were very close – they missed out in the final – and since then they didn’t stand still. They have gone further, they have improved even more and that is where we are.
“But we have nothing to lose and I always feel like my players like that – to prove people wrong, to go out and play with no fear and we have nothing to lose.
“That suits us. That suits our style and I think when we do it right, any team in our league will have problems against us because we can be very difficult to play against us.
“It’s not up to Middlesbrough, it’s up to us and how good we are on the day and how good we are doing our stuff and attacking them in the right manner.
“It will be interesting to see and also to see how far we have come.”
Leeds will be bidding to cause their second big surprise of the season after winning at Derby County last month and Rosler added: “Over one game, on our day, we can win against any team in this league but that is when we are performing at our optimum and we need to go to the Riverside and perform at our optimum.
“Their players don’t need many chances and that is the quality they have.
“You can maybe get mentally and physically a little bit tired because of the way they are shifting around.
“We need to have an excellent performance physically and mentally and I think the best defence for me going into those sort of games is to attack and I have said to my players ‘I compare this game a little bit to when I went with Wigan to Manchester City.’
“Now I go with Leeds United to Middlesbrough and I think the best way sometimes is to attack.
“I have to encourage my players how to do that more probably than we did against MK Dons.”
Rosler’s men were criticised for allowing the Dons back into the game in last weekend’s Championship win as the Whites clung on for a 2-1 victory against ten men after being 2-0 up at half-time.
The German knows Leeds cannot magically be turned from a mid-table side into Brazil but has called on his players’ to follow the example set by left-back Charlie Taylor whose daring run won United a first-half penalty that Chris Wood converted, 12 minutes before Taylor’s long range corker extended United’s lead.
Rosler said: “We need that sort of drive in wider areas and also in midfield to commit defenders.
“I can only encourage that sort of play Charlie Taylor has shown and I am very happy for him that he was on the scoresheet but we need more.
“We need that from Stuart Dallas, we need that from Sam Byram, we need that from (Jordan) Botaka, we need that from Will (Buckley), we need that from (Lewis) Cook, we need that from (Alex) Mowatt so I encourage my players to play more aggressively in the final third.”
Explaining the push for a gradual improvement in United’s confidence and ambition, Rosler said: “Last season the team was threatened by relegation so we needed to start somewhere this season. Where are we starting? Are we starting with playing like Brazil? Or do we start to get solid and try to create confidence in to our young players by getting results along the way and boost them by step by step.
“We opted to go that way rather than play like Brazil from day one.”