A little over a month ago I wrote an article asking whether Thomas Christiansen could turn it around at Leeds, he answered me a couple of games later (or so I thought) with a change of tactics and a 3-0 win over a decent Bristol City side – normal service resumed? Well no.
We’ve moved from blip to slump now. It would be flattering to call the defeats to Derby, Brentford and Sheffield United `frustrating’ in each of those games the only flattering thing has been the scoreline.
We have been for the most part comprehensively outplayed. Worse than that the players no longer show anything like the swagger or self-belief you’d have seen a mere 2 months ago, they are visibly demotivated, they back off attacking players, they fluff their passes giving away possession far too easily and misplace clearances.
The worst offences of all have come in goal, with Lonergan’s shockers at Brentford plain for all to see. Something is badly wrong – so what is it – and can it be fixed?
The tactics aren’t working
Christiansen seems pretty hell bent on 4-3-2-1. And it’s noticeable even to the casual observer that players are pretty rigid in this formula on the pitch. It’s proving far too easy to work around the gaps this system brings. When it’s played well by top teams, it’s pretty fluid and changes from a 4-5-1 to a 4-4-2.
That doesn’t seem to be something Leeds have done well, and it took until the visit to Millwall to see that. Ironically this for me is what did for our play-off chances last season, we had no Plan B. I have yet to see Plan B from Christiansen it may well do for him if he doesn’t bring a serious change in approach..
Persisting with a losing formula only serves to create a negative atmosphere.. Leading us to point two.
Confidence has been shattered
The most fragile of assets on any dressing room. Squads of talented players can play at about a tenth of their ability if confidence goes. Just look at Ayling and Jansson, talk was of them moving up to the Premier League, currently they’re being decimated each game by fairly ordinary opposition (with all due respect to the teams we’ve played) earlier in the season wed have seen better timed challenges from both, strong positional awareness.
Both of these players are like headless chickens, unthinkable at the beginning of the season. You have to wonder whether they believe in the coach or his tactics..
That rot goes right through the team.
Lasogga has scored 5 in 9, but he doesn’t like he’s scored in 3 years when you watch him play, the confidence has leached from the team and it’s a vicious circle. Do you drop players? And finish off their confidence? Persist with them and expose them to a loss week in week out?.. Over to you Thomas.
We haven’t settled on our best back 4 or on our midfield
This for me was almost where the rot set in. Where was Christiansen going to accommodate Roofe, Saiz, Hernandez, Dallas, Sacko and Alioski? He has an embarrassment of riches in attacking midfield, so at various points hes tried to accommodate them all. And it hasn’t worked.
Imagine the Brain Melting frustration of Stuart Dallas watching a lacklustre performance from Alioski or Sacko in recent weeks, and then only getting a trot out, out of position at left back!! Not doing so well there and its back to the bench. It could be worse. Imagine the irritation of Mateusz Klich or Pawel Cibicki, signed with some fanfare but only given cameos in cup games and no real chance to establish themselves even when others are failing to perform..
There has been even more `faffing’ when it comes to the back four, the Sisyphean task of finding a decent left back must surely come to an end soon, worse than that thought, last season’s untouchable partnership of Jansson and Bartley has been replaced with Cooper – Jansson, Cooper-Pennington, Jansson Pennington, Cooper – Shaughnessy, Pennington Shaughnessy…..
Make it stop.
None of them seem to be working and who’d have thought Cooper would be our most consistent defender.. The loss of form of Berardi and Ayling makes matters worse still, total lack of stability in defence and midfield is something the coach needs to make his mind up on.
The influence of Victor Orta
I’ve started the ill-advised exercise of speaking to Boro Fans (don’t take it personally) and reading up on Orta’s demise at the Riverside Stadium. It makes for depressing reading. The man with the weapons grade book of contacts has delivered us a top quality player in Saiz, arguably too good for this division. But what else? Has he replace Bartley adequately? No. Why on earth did he sell Bridcutt when we have paucity of commanding midfielders? Worse – why did he sanction Green going to Huddersfield leaving us with the hapless Felix Wiedwald and Andy Lonergan – -surely with respect to both of these keepers they aren’t as good a quality as Green, and they’d probably admit that.
We didn’t need Nostradamus to foretell the departure of Charlie Taylor – so why didn’t we sign a decent left back. We were linked with Bryan and Flint at Bristol City – but nothing… we have got lucky with Shaughnessy, but again the loan signing of Pennington previously inexperienced at this level is not comparable to Kyle Bartley, Borthwick-Jackson falls into the same boat, he may well have potential but it isn’t a like for like – and that makes you weaker.
You have to question Ortas influence when you see Alioski play week in week out, good player? Well yes he is but so’s Stuart Dallas, and so is Kemar Roofe and maybe they’d be better suited some times? You have to ask how much influence Orta has over those selection decisions, and if he has any then Im sorry that’s wrong – it undermines the manager (sorry `Head Coach’)
The recruitment of players like Ouasim Bouy, loaned straight out to Cultural Leon seem bizarre in the extreme. We aren’t Fiorentina, we don’t have such a vast squad and endless reserves that we can sign players expressly to loan them out a feeder club?! In fact we don’t have enough Central defenders. It smacks of a man out of touch with how English Football works, and without coming across as narrow minded, it is different to Spanish or French football. Certainly at this level, we need to be careful how we invest, and make it count – look at the weekends opposition Brentford, why can’t we find a Wood? Why didn’t we invest in Ollie Watkins? Even their managers Warburton, and now Smith are experienced men in their roles and in English football – they know what works and are actually pretty innovative in their methods. Yet we have hired a coach whose only senior experience came in Cyprus? The mind boggles.
Listening to Dean Smith after the Brentford game was telling, he knew his players were unlucky but playing well – but hey – so did their fans – and the results are coming now, he’s he man in charge of football. Our set up with lack of clarity as to who is in charge is good for no-one. Orta will blame Christiansen for the current form. Christiansen could equally say – well hey I didn’t sign the players – what do you expect..
The first couple of months of the season were a delight, but papered over serious structural issues within the club. Radrizzani has worked wonders with the feel-good factor at Leeds. Repurchasing the ground and putting up funds to spend on players is music to our ears after Bates, GFH and Cellino. But has he trusted the right people? On the face of it Ortas model seems not to be working.
It smacks even a little of when Cellino first came in and had his Sporting director Salerno, and head coach (es) model, only when he stepped back and let Monk do things his way did we see success.
Christiansen has to demonstrate now that he really is the right man for the job, by standing up for his footballing principles and making changes. He has very good quality players at this level in Jansson, Cooper, Shaughnessy, Ayling, Berardi, Roofe, Anita, Dallas, O’Kane and Hernandez and top class players full stop in Vieira and Saiz. Its time he put some bite back in the Leeds United squad and changed things round before the slump turns into a full blown crisis. Is he the man for the job?
Well let him do the job and make the choices and we’ll see. Im not going to suggest formation changes to a man far more experienced than I but if he does want bite in that midfield, why isn’t he playing Anita there? Where he played to such good effect for Newcastle? Why wouldn’t he contemplate Shaughnessy as a holding midfielder too – he does have options.. Over to you Christiansen.
Reporter | Matt Brown-Bolton