Can Christiansen turn it around?

Last season began like many others with a fairly mixed bag of results, a resounding thrashing at QPR, a home defeat to lowly Birmingham City, were followed by a draw at home to Fulham an away win at Sheffield Wednesday – and then followed by more defeats  to Forest and Huddersfield.

There’s a lot of sense then, given how that season proceeded in the view that our current travails away from home need to be kept in context. Garry Monk’s adjustment to the championship was not easy, he stuck with a seemingly `patchy’ goalkeeper, and took time to settle on what he felt was his best formation. He was met with failure very early on, perhaps his tactics were too well known from his time at Swansea? Perhaps they were fairly typical to most opposition bosses of an English league manager?

Our current incumbent Thomas Christiansen has a different set of challenges, clearly. He is not familiar with the Championship, or English football for that matter in a practical sense anyway, many of his new players are `enjoying’ this experience for the first time too – Wiedwald, Saiz, Alioski, Klich, Lasogga, Ekuban, Grot.

In short the start Leeds have had is unexpectedly good.

It is now well documented thwart McCarthy, Warnock, Harris and now Carvalhal have pounced upon Christiansen’s methods of `playing out from the back’ in theory this isn’t a bad way of doing things, it precludes launching the ball into the opposition half and waiting for it to come back (leading to the often turgid spectacles you see in the championship). But managers are wise to a sometimes pre-ponderous quality our players seem to possess on the ball – call it `one touch too many’ it’s different from `putting your foot on the ball’ to use another cliché. Perhaps not used to slower build up play, those seconds are a danger zone, all Warnock and McCarthy needed to tell their players is to press the man in possession and probably the next closest player, and bang – possession gets lost. Keep doing that and doubt sets in – and the formation goes…

In the same way O’kane got caught in possession and a goal was given away the prior week it was Klich against Cardiff.

In the same way Wiedwald flapped against Ipswich batting the ball into the path of Garner and giving away a goal needlessly he did it again against Cardiff.

Watching a team who are good in possession like Spurs or dare I say it M*nchester Un*ted, the passing is slick and at a high tempo – and that pace is kept up for long periods, at Leeds you see it maintained for about the first 10-20 minutes each game – by which time you’d hope they’d score – and after that they settle down into a more relaxed mode.

The formula to beat them then is easy – press them for the first twenty minutes. Hit them on the break – and they end up running round like headless chickens as Plan A has failed.

The good news Is Christiansen has a wealth of options to work on in the international break. He should consider changing formation to combat players being pressed. Putting bodies around those in possession is one way of achieving that, so packing them tighter in midfield, another is of course to  play the longer ball to the forwards (as Shaughnessy did to good effect against Ipswich), these are things we can do – it’s more a case of Christiansen realising he can and drilling that into his players, Shaughnessy’s assist against Cardiff felt instinctive, as did Lasogga’s positioning, virtually everything else we seem to do comes through Alioski and Saiz and Its far too predictable.

The best managers change it up, even in the same game, rinse and repeat doesn’t work. And look at the players we can still use?

In Midfield Vieira and Klich have yet to enjoy a decent run of games, indeed Vurnon Anita’s best position is in front of the central defenders – something we desperately need as teams press us, as a good long passer of the ball he can offer the option of direct play out of defence.

Phillips is a player who needs resting so revolving in these areas is vitally important. The same goes for O’kane who didn’t look at the races on Sunday after recovering from illness.

Dallas is surely chomping at the bit for a start now, as a winger he is direct, and far from lightweight, he must surely now be in his managers thinking.

Defence and attack seem more problematic than you’d imagine given the amount of goals we have scored. Roofe seems happiest in a 4-4-2, but that will seemingly never happen at Leeds in our lifetime!

On the wing he is sporadically useful, but probably better accustomed to the championship than Alioski, It may be that he will need to come off the bench more, and we need to settle down on the role(s) for Hernandez and Saiz, who are not identical in how they play. Lasogga seems a decent addition, but the jury is surely still out on Grot..

At the back, it’s a less worrying picture, Shaughnessy, Pennington, Jansson and Cooper are solid enough, but of course are not immune from making errors, ditto Ayling and Berardi, especially when midfield is overrun.

Our goalkeeper though seems to need more acclimatisation time – and that may well come at the cost of goals being shipped, this might be the toughest cut of all for TC, Lonergan is surely a safer pair of hands, but much like Green he won’t be seen as a long term option, so you can see TC persisting for a while longer with Wiedwald.

Whether that’s the right call remains to be seen – Green picked up after 10 games, so there is a good chance Wiedwald may do the same.

The 2 overriding differences to last season now though are that a.) We have more options through our squad (good ones) and b.) We have more points on the board.

All is not lost! We simply need to find that new rhythm and TC needs to think about making changes when things start to cave in, we have `toughness’ and experience within our squad, it’s time we made it count!

Reporter | Matt Brown-Bolton

  • Mark Griffiths

    Good analysis, Matt. You wrote this before the proper news came through on O’Kane’s rib injury. Yes, we’ve been worked out away from home and this will translate to home games as well if not changed. This isn’t something that Christiansen will be able to sort out in two weeks. So, he’s really under the microscope between now and Christmas. We’ll really see if he’s able to adapt to the Championship. Some of his new players look dodgy (Wiedwald, Alioski) and others haven’t played up to their billing (Klich). Grot is not ready for this level and Cibicki hasn’t been tried. But, to be honest, the real problem isn’t in defence or attack – generally, the players we have are above the average in these areas. It’s in how we play in midfield. Passing out from your team’s worst ball players at the back is disastrous. TC needs to be playing more players in the centre of midfield, with at least two playing the fetch and carry role. We don’t need Janssen and Cooper passing it forward. Certainly, away from home, I’d play 3 in the middle (any three from O’Kane, Phillips, Anita, Klich, Vieira – whoever’s in form). And I’d have Saiz and Hernandez wide midfield outside them. But only TC can change the system. Over October, November and December, we’ll see. If we’re still in the playoffs come New Year, it’ll be working.