Phil Hay: How Felix Wiedwald’s record at Leeds United has gone ‘off the scale’

Felix Wiedwald.
Felix Wiedwald.
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Felix Wiedwald’s second season with Werder Bremen feels a long way behind him. In that year, his last before joining Leeds United, he was permanently in the line of fire.

His concessions ran to 49 in 25 league games and the German shipped 13 goals in his final three appearances.

Thomas Christiansen.

Thomas Christiansen.

Wiedwald knows the life of a machine-gunned goalkeeper.

For him, life at Elland Road is off the other end of the scale. On Tuesday, at the end of a 2-0 win over Birmingham, Wiedwald’s run without leaking a league goal entered its 10th hour. He has not conceded from open play since the 39th minute of Leeds’ 3-2 win at Bolton Wanderers on August 6 or at all in six games that followed. No keeper in England can touch his record and, on the strength of it, Leeds at the top of the Championship for the first time since 1990.

United’s record, as Wiedwald appreciates, is a reflection of their defence as much as it is a reflection of his personal form.

Leeds are asking little over a save a game from him and when Maxime Colin threatened to level Tuesday’s clash with Birmingham with a looping header over Wiedwald, Luke Ayling protected a sixth consecutive clean sheet with an improbable goalline clearance behind him.

“We defend very well and stop the opposition having too many opportunities,” Wiedwald said. “That’s nice for me. As a team we do the job well and make it difficult for teams to beat us.

“I have to be alert and ready but we defend as a team. Look at what happened before half-time (when Ayling denied Colin an equaliser). He saved me. It’s not only my job to save the goals. It’s the whole team’s.”

Wiedwald was a £500,000 signing from Bremen and, in many ways, the most contentious of Christiansen’s inclusions when Leeds travelled to Bolton for their first game of the season last month.

The 27-year-old joined a club with, in the eyes of a most, a firmly-established first choice in former England international Rob Green. Green played in every minute of the 2016-17 Championship season and was arguably Leeds’ most consistent presence in the second half of it, almost the last player Christiansen needed to replace.

Christiansen took both players on tour to Austria in July and came home with his mind set on playing Wiedwald, a keeper who he felt might suit Leeds’ fluid and expansive tactics better. Green, who was frustrated by the loss of his place, made one appearance in the League Cup last month and eventually left for Huddersfield Town after Leeds agreed to sever the remainder of his contract before the transfer deadline. Andy Lonergan arrived from Wolverhampton Wanderers as Wiedwald’s understudy.

To date, Christiansen has not been required to answer for that decision or defend it. His defence has been watertight and Wiedwald’s limited involvement does not deflect from the fact that Leeds look comfortable in front of him.

“It’s very important for us to be able to play out from the back,” Wiedwald said. “We want to do that and I have to play my part. The gaffer wants me to start the attacks and find the runs.

“Everyone wants to play from the back and this is how football has changed. My job is to help that. We’re a very fast team, we get the ball forward quickly, at speed.

“In the seven games we’ve done a good job and we’re top of the league. I came here to improve the team and our game.”

Bremen last season were porous with Wiedwald in their line-up and not much better with him out of it. The club conceded almost two goals a game – 64 in 34 matches – but remarkably scored enough themselves to finish eighth in the Bundesliga. Jaroslav Drobny, a Czech Republic international, played 10 times but Bremen looked elsewhere in the summer, signing Jiri Pavlenka from Slavia Prague and tempting Wiedwald to seek new pastures.

“Every clean sheet is the best feeling,” Wiedwald said. “I’ve had six in a row and that’s more than I managed last year in the Bundesliga so I’m satisfied. Maybe we will beat it (with a seventh at Millwall this weekend).

“English football is different. It’s more physical and there are a couple of teams who play the direct ball from the goalkeeper but I like the style here. It’s a better way to play.”

Millwall, who Leeds visit on Saturday for the resumption of a niggly rivalry, do not often let United have their way at The New Den. The Elland Road club have had their moments in Bermondsey but relatively few of them over the years, often second best against a club who take particular pleasure in scalping Leeds.

Christiansen, however, has the benefit of form and the confidence of a United squad who topped England’s second division on Tuesday for the first time since 1990.

That the club are there on merit is shown in the statistics; no team in the division has scored more goals and no team has conceded fewer. Millwall lie 19th with six points after a midweek draw away at Queens Park Rangers.

“I’ve played in big stadiums like Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund so this will not be new for me, to play in front of a big atmosphere,” Wiedwald said.

“I’m looking forward to being there.

“We want the three points. We are top but this is not the end. We have to work harder and we want to stay there.”