Willy Gnonto influence highlighted as Leeds United teammates fall short
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The 19-year-old Italian functioned as Leeds’ primary creator at the City Ground on Sunday afternoon but was ultimately left frustrated by Forest’s tactical change and his teammates’ own profligacy in front of goal.
Gnonto’s five key passes surpassed every other player outside the Premier League’s ‘Big Six’ during the last round of matches, highlighting Leeds’ concerning dependency and growing reliance on the teenage forward. No other United player created more than one chance against Forest, whilst the bulk of Leeds’ attempts on goal came in the first half, before Steve Cooper introduced Serge Aurier to better combat Gnonto’s threat wide on the left.
Without Gnonto’s direct running down his flank, cutting back and presenting opportunities for men in the middle, Leeds’ attacks were paralysed by Forest sitting deep, packing the middle with red shirts and suffocating the life out of United’s frequent but fruitless forays forward.
In each of Leeds’ two most recent Premier League victories, Gnonto has played a pivotal role in the winning goals. First, at Anfield in late October, the teenager was brought on, drawing Liverpool bodies toward him before finding Patrick Bamford in the penalty area, whose touch into the path of Crysencio Summerville provided an improbable winner.
The following weekend, Gnonto’s mazy run from his own half at Elland Road finished with him turning provider for Summerville, threading through to the Dutchman who applied the finish. Since that early November victory, Leeds are winless in the Premier League – and if teams are able to nullify the Italy international, they are able to nullify Leeds. At Forest, as the minutes ticked down from Brennan Johnson’s 13th-minute opener, Leeds were out of answers, absent of solutions to the home side’s setup, relying almost exclusively on their gutsy young forward to force a route to goal.
A system of play that depends so heavily on a single individual to provide match-defining moments of magic, especially one so young, is symptomatic of a team lacking in creative fibre. The Whites are capable of scoring goals, but in certain circumstances, such as going behind and being forced to break down a low block, they have come up worryingly short time and time again this season, as Sunday’s display at Forest exhibited.