AFTER seeing Leeds United succumb to their eighth loss from their last 11 Championship games, the YEP’s Lee Sobot looks at a few key talking points from Wednesday night’s 4-1 defeat at classy leaders Wolves.
Can Leeds keep pace with the top six?
Whites head coach Thomas Christiansen has always maintained that this season’s principal aim was to go at least one place better than last season’s seventh-placed return under Garry Monk and finish in the play-offs.
The Dane would not really entertain talk of automatic promotion when United topped the table after five wins and two draws by mid-September.
Two months on, United are now 11 points behind second-placed Cardiff City and 15 adrift of leaders Wolves who are threatening to steal a march on the chasing pack and will probably do so.
There is also little doubt that United could do with seriously strengthening their side when the transfer window re-opens in January.
But Leeds still have another seven games before the turn of the year and those seven fixtures could mark a crucial period of the season for the Whites.
It was hoped that United were back on track after Sunday’s 2-1 victory at home to Middlesbrough and time may tell that the Whites have indeed turned a corner as a trip to probable champions-elect Wolves was always going to be represent a tall order.
But now is the time for United to prove they are back on the up and Christiansen will be fully aware that there will be more questions about his future if Leeds do not pick up a decent return from their next spell of games, starting with Saturday’s clash at Barnsley.
A tough home tie with fourth-placed Aston Villa is next - two very important games in a key spell as a whole between now and the turn of the year.
Despite being tenth, Leeds are still only three points behind sixth-placed Middlesbrough but equally United are also only three points better off than 15th-placed Norwich City and the importance of a decent tally of points over the next handful of games is obvious.
It has to be said that United could definitely have been looking at a trickier set of fixtures for December bar the Villa game with Leeds taking on five of the division’s current bottom ten to finish the year with home ties against Norwich and Hull City sandwiched by trips to QPR, Burton Albion and Birmingham City with the latter duo facing particularly testing times.
Should Christiansen change United’s formation for Saturday’s Yorkshire derby at Barnsley?
Christiansen once again kept faith with his 4-2-3-1 system at Molineux - a formation that saw United dismiss Middlesbrough 2-1 at Elland Road on Sunday.
The same system also took Leeds to an impressive 3-0 victory at high-flying Bristol City just last month.
But United have now lost five of their last six Championship away fixtures, conceding 14 goals in those six games.
Starting two wingers and a no 10 behind a lone striker gives Leeds obvious options going forward but would United be better off operating under a different system for what is sure to be a feisty derby at Barnsley on Saturday, whether that be by adding an extra body in centre midfield - perhaps in a 3-5-2 - or providing another outlet upfront through a 4-4-2?
Kemar Roofe again played the lone striker role at Wolves but even if Pierre-Michel Lasogga remains sidelined, Caleb Ekuban is also pushing hard for a start and Ekuban may be a more natural lone striker than Roofe - unless Christiansen plays the two of them together.
Ekuban clearly looks ahead of the still very raw Jay-Roy Grot in the striker pecking order.
And in midfield Northern Ireland international winger Stuart Dallas would likely bring a stronger defensive side of the game to the party than Gjanni Alioski or Pablo Hernandez who are currently filling the slots out wide, either side of no 10 Samu Saiz.
Wingers Hadi Sacko and Pawel Cibicki are among the other options for Christiansen but hardly defensive minded ones and neither appear particularly close to getting a run in the side.
Who should replace Ronaldo Vieira in centre midfield?
Vieira will miss Saturday’s clash at Barnsley by serving a one-game ban for his dismissal in Wednesday night’s clash at Wolves and Irish international midfielder Eunan O’Kane is the obvious port of call in terms of a replacement.
O’Kane had a strong start to the season with Leeds but the 27-year-old put in a particularly below par display in the recent 3-1 loss at Brentford and found himself benched for the clashes against Middlesbrough and Wolves.
Christiansen certainly has other options in centre midfield, particularly in the shape of Polish international summer recruit Mateusz Klich who has rarely featured since his move from FC Twente.
With ten caps for Poland under his belt, Klich is surely capable of better than what we have seen so far in the few chances afforded to him.
Vurnon Anita and even the versatile Conor Shaughnessy are other alternatives to partner Kalvin Phillips in centre midfield, assuming Phillips himself keeps his place after a fairly disappointing display at Molineux.
Is it time for a change at left back and in defence in general?
Gaetano Berardi’s dedication and commitment to the Whites cause cannot be questioned but the 29-year-old is more naturally recognised as a right back and the defender was subjected to a testing time by Middlesbrough and even more so at Wolves.
And Christiansen has three other fit and available options in Anita, Manchester United loanee Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and even Dallas who produced a decent showing in the position in the recent loss against Derby.
Borthwick-Jackson, though, once again failed to even make the bench at Molineux despite definitely being fit and available after recovering from a recent ankle problem.
With Pontus Jansson and captain Liam Cooper given the run around by an admittedly very strong Wolves side, Christiansen will also have to decide if there is a need to change his centre-backs with Shaughnessy and Everton loanee Matthew Pennington the alternatives, if indeed the Dane sticks with a flat back four and resists any temptation to play three at the back and put an extra man either upfront or in midfield.
Who should start in goal?
Andy Lonergan deposed summer recruit Felix Wiedwald as first choice ‘keeper after conceding six goals in the losses at Cardiff and Sheffield Wednesday and Lonergan then looked set for a sustained run in the team.
But United are once again continuing to leak goals with worrying frequency and Lonergan probably ought to have saved Ivan Cavaleiro’s strike at Wolves on Wednesday in the first half.
The ‘keeper’s failure to gather an initial shot and then foul on Leo Bonatini also led to the second-half penalty.
But the million dollar question is would Wiedwald be any better?
The German custodian will certainly will be desperate for another chance to prove himself and Leeds also have a third option in young Bailey Peacock-Farrell who has recently returned from a loan spell at York City.
Peacock-Farrell, though, remains very inexperienced and it is likely still a straight shoot-out between Lonergan and Wiedwald as to who starts in goal against Barnsley.
The gut feeling is that Lonergan will keep his place.