THREE games, three defeats. The early-season optimism at Elland Road seems to have disappeared with Leeds United slipping from the Championship perch quite dramatically.
The latest setback came on Saturday when Thomas Christiansen’s team slipped to a 1-0 defeat to Reading. Ahead of this Saturday’s trip to fourth-placed Bristol City, Phil Hay picks out a few timely talking points. Post your thoughts in the comments section below.
A different goalkeeper - but the same approach
Felix Wiedwald was on thin ice before Saturday and Thomas Christiansen did not let that issue fester. Andy Lonergan’s debut was good enough in terms of the goalkeeping basics to justify Wiedwald’s demotion and his saves from Mo Barrow and Sone Aluko deserved a draw.
But the inclusion of Lonergan - an English goalkeeper in both nationality and coaching - did not alter the football that Christiansen is trying hard to make Leeds embrace. Wiedwald has averaged 35 passes a game in 11 previous matches and Lonergan hit that exact figure against Reading. He distributed the ball religiously to Pontus Jansson and Liam Cooper, though without always looking comfortable about it. The crowd at Elland Road did not take long to start twitching as Reading applied a high press.
Lonergan, you suspect, would not describe himself as a sweeper-keeper, and that form of goalkeeping probably sits more easily to Wiedwald, but it is evidently what Christiansen wants behind his back four. Lonergan has the honour now, ahead of Wiedwald in the pecking order, and the expectation to set United’s attacks rolling is now on him.
Pontus Jansson’s form
There are no grounds for claiming that Jansson’s performances have been significantly worse than those of any other Leeds player during the past five games. The issue for Jansson is that his highest standards make him look like the best centre-back in the Championship and Leeds saw that form consistently between their poor start and a feeble finish last season.
On Saturday his conviction, his passing and his body language seemed out of sorts, unlike the bombastic character who Leeds embraced very quickly a year ago. He lost one half of a very combative partnership in Kyle Bartley over the summer but his understanding with Liam Cooper was settling nicely until United’s defending went awry at Cardiff City.
Jansson is the most valuable footballer in the squad at Elland Road; the closest Leeds have to Premier League quality and the player who would raise most money if the club sold everyone tomorrow. In a team which is slightly diminutive and arguably lacking in big personalities, United need Jansson in form and in the mood. When he defends well, Leeds defend well.
No longer a mile ahead of last season
Leeds took 14 matches to reach 20 points at the start of the 2016-17 season. The club were there after nine this term but are still on that total with 12 played.
Christiansen was deservedly applauded for finding his feet so quickly in England but three straight defeats have given United’s league position a slightly different complexion. The form under Monk is slowly catching up and the club’s standing in the respective tables is starting to converge. At this stage a year ago, Leeds held 16 points.
Monk’s better results were interspersed with off days but the former Leeds boss had a knack of preventing one defeat becoming three or four. United lost back-to-back matches four times across the entire term and were never beaten three times in a row. The search for a Leeds side who suffered four losses in succession goes back to the very end of Neil Redfearn’s reign in 2015.
Andrea Radrizzani avoids any knee-jerking
Leeds United’s owner was elsewhere on Saturday but the past few weeks cannot have looked any prettier to him than they did to Christiansen or anyone else. Christiansen has already been in his job for twice as long as David Hockaday and Darko Milanic but Radrizzani set a sensible tone on Saturday night, tweeting: “It’s in the difficult times that you build trust and build foundations, all the team and staff have my support. Let’s learn from mistakes and work harder (than) before.” Christiansen was his man and his first choice as head coach. The Italian will be keen to stay the course and make it work.
Was it a foul before the goal - and was it a penalty?
Yes to the foul, regardless of what Jaap Stam said. Leandro Bacuna hardly poleaxed Pablo Hernandez but a pull on his shirt helped to bring him down. That said, the offence took place on halfway and Reading still had to pick their way through a dog-legged defence.
Multiple replays do not make the penalty incident entirely clear but Liam Moore seems to take a piece of Samuel Saiz’s foot and does not appear to make particularly clean contact with the ball. In real time and at the speed the players were moving, you can understand why it was given. Hernandez, incidentally, is only the second Leeds player to miss a penalty outwith a shoot-out since Billy Sharp at Charlton on the day of the ‘sicknote six’ in 2015.
Yorkshire Evening Post
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