THERE are few players at Leeds United more suited than Pontus Jansson to the roughest edges of the Championship but even he is willing to consider the question of whether the club are a slightly soft touch.
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Last year we were good against the physical teams and maybe had problems with the teams who played football.Pontus Jansson
From a vantage point in the centre of defence, Jansson has delighted in Leeds “killing teams who play football” in a way which was rarely seen at Elland Road last season. At the same time he was not oblivious to the sight of United hitting brick walls against two sides who know how to take the game into the trenches.
There was less warfare about Leeds’ defeat to Cardiff City on Tuesday than there was about the club’s customary loss at Millwall two weeks ago but in amongst some fine results, those fixtures began a debate which Jansson, speaking yesterday, was happy to contribute to: is this Leeds squad able to cope with intense, direct tactics which attempt to nullify their own strengths?
Last Saturday’s win over Ipswich Town suggested that Thomas Christiansen’s players can. Ipswich found chinks in United’s defence and took Leeds to the well but came out on the wrong side of a 3-2 scoreline, the sixth team to lose to Christiansen’s.
“We are ready for everything,” said the club’s head coach as the dust settled on a poor result at Cardiff, and tomorrow’s derby away at Sheffield Wednesday is another chance to prove it.
Jansson sees a certain amount of irony in the discussion being had about Leeds’ willingness to scrap. It was not this way under Garry Monk last season but neither did Monk serve up the sort of performance which tore Burton Albion to shreds in a 5-0 rout earlier this month.
“Last year we were good against the physical teams and maybe had problems with the teams who played football,” Jansson said. “This season has been the opposite. Teams who play football, we’ve killed them from the first minute. Millwall and Cardiff are two physical teams who play another type of football and that’s something we have to work on.
“We’ve got a lot of new players and it can take time to come into Championship football. We’ve discussed it and we’re going to prepare for another physical game (tomorrow). We’ll see how Sheffield Wednesday come out and play against us.
“If you look at the 24 teams in the table, Ipswich, Millwall and Cardiff are the three most physical games in the league. They’re the teams who play most long balls, put pressure on from corners, throw-ins and set-pieces.
“We came out of them with three points which is not good but it’s okay. There will be other physical games but these three are the toughest in the league.”
Christiansen and his players held a meeting yesterday morning to pick apart the Cardiff game and analyse the issues which led to it. Jansson’s verdict on Tuesday was much like that of his head coach: that Leeds suffered nothing like the onslaught experienced at Millwall but shot themselves in the foot by conceding two soft goals and losing captain Liam Cooper to a red card in the first half.
If Cardiff’s intensity was not quite so severe, it still succeeded in forcing those errors.
A man down and 3-0 behind after an hour, Leeds snatched a consolation through Kemar Roofe and took some solace from their performance with 10 men. They are third in the table and can draw a satisfying contrast between their own form and that of Sheffield Wednesday, one of last season’s play-off semi-finalists.
Wednesday go into tomorrow’s derby on the back of a chastening defeat to Sheffield United and a loss to a Birmingham City side who were previously struggling to buy a win.
“The first half against Cardiff wasn’t good enough but in the second half we showed we were a good team and even though we were one man down, we played as good as Cardiff did,” Jansson said.
“The second half is something we have to take with us but we have to discuss that the first half was bad and we’ve done that behind closed doors. We’ve analysed the game in a good way and most important now is to bounce back, which is what we’re going to do on Sunday.
“The next time we play a physical team we’re going to prepare in a better way, go out and win and then no-one will talk about this.
“We’ve had a good start and we don’t have to get stressed if we lose a game. Just focus on the next one. The only important thing is May, when we see what the league looks like and which three teams are going to the Premier League. We take it game-by-game and in May we’re going to be in the Premier League. That’s how we have to think.
“I can understand that people around the club get stressed. I’ve also been a supporter in my life. But as a footballer, the team and the staff have to be calm.”
Cooper’s red card for two bookings in Cardiff will enforced another change in the centre of the defence tomorrow as the 26-year-old serves a one-match ban.
The partnership of Cooper and Jansson had kept five clean sheets in as many games before the visit to Wales but Christiansen’s saving grace is the return from injury of Matthew Pennington, the defender he signed on loan from Everton in July.
Pennington turned in an excellent debut against Bolton Wanderers since July but was injured in that game and has barely figured since. Christiansen sent him on for the second half against Cardiff after Cooper was sent off seconds before the interval.
Jansson compared Pennington to Sweden team-mate Victor Lindelof and said the 22-year-old would slot back into Christiansen’s line-up comfortably at Hillsborough.
“He’s a good player, Jansson said. “He’s professional and he wants to learn. He reminds me of Lindelof at Manchester United. They’re similar as football players but also as people, nice and calm. He’s a good guy and if he comes in I think he’ll have a good game.”