Leeds head in to Sunday’s clash with Middlesbrough sitting 10th in the table following a run of six defeats in seven games in the Championship. Seven defeats in eight in all competitions if you want to include the Leicester defeat.
Despite receiving backing from the board it seems like this week will prove vital for Thomas Christiansen’s future with the Whites travelling to Wolves and Barnsley following Sunday’s clash.
Garry Monk makes his eagerly anticipated return to Elland Road on the Middlesbrough dug out this Sunday. The visitors come into the game in fine form, picking up three wins in as many games and now sit inside the play off positions.
The former Swansea boss spent a year at Leeds guiding them to a seventh placed finish after an end of season collapse saw them fall out of the play-offs at the last hurdle.
Dom Brown, writer for the Middlesbrough section of the Vavel website, gives us the lowdown on the Boro and how Monk has been performing in his new job on Teeside.
How has our old boss Garry Monk settled in to is new job?
I think that Monk is starting to settle more into his role now at Middlesbrough. He’s found a formation that he likes and players that can play it. He’s stopped trying to shoehorn all of his summer signings into one team and has found success with Britt Assombalonga and Martin Braithwaite upfront. There was some animosity towards him a few weeks ago after a run of poor results. This, though, was mainly due to frustration of the fans as they know the team could play better than they had been.
You didn’t get off to the best of starts, has he changed anything from the first few games of the season?
At the start of the season, as was the case in Leeds last year, Monk really was unsure of his best 11. Multiple changes of formation and personnel meant for inconsistency on the pitch too. For the first few games of the year, Boro actually looked to be playing well, with players like Rudy Gestede and Patrick Bamford playing well. An injury to Gestede in early Septemeber meant that Monk had to change things up again and it’s taken a while for him to find that winning formula again.
How do you think you will line up on Sunday?
I would be surprised to see more than two changes from the side that beat Sunderland at home nearly a fortnight ago. Cyrus Christie will miss the match due to suspension after picking up five yellow cards so far this season. Christie’s likely replacement, Fabio da Silva, has been suffering from injury over the past weeks so if he does not play then Connor Roberts likely will.
I anticipate the team will be: Randolph; Fabio, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Howson, Leadbitter; Tavernier, Braithwaite, Downing; Assombalonga. (4-2-3-1)
Another former Leeds man, Jonny Howson, who is adored in Leeds will return, how has he been doing?
When Howson was signed from Norwich, it seemed like he was just a similar player to what there already was on Teesside. He is very much in the mould of an Adam Forshaw, a Grant Leadbitter or an Adam Clayton. When Boro were playing three central midfielders, the game was really passing Howson by and he wasn’t getting involved in the game and he lost his spot in the side because of this. Howson was restored to the side following the 2-2 draw away to Barsnley and has kept his place in the four matches since then. He’s added an attacking nature to the midfield that was previously missing. I’d expect his welcome to be somewhat warmer than Garry Monk’s.
Martin Braithwaite, your summer signing from Toulouse has started to hit some form, is he the man to be the different between the sides or is there other players to unlock our defence?
When Braithwaite arrived there was talk about where he would play for us. Shortly after he signed, Monk also bought Assomalonga from Nottingham Forest, so the number nine role seemed to be off the cards. He looks to be thriving in the role behind the striker. He likes to create space in and around the penalty area and is eager to make something happen for the team. His quick feet and quick thinking have proven to be a dangerous combination for Championship defenders since he returned from a hamstring injury in October. He looks to be this season’s version of Gaston Ramirez, who helped us get promoted in 2015/16 and could well be the person who is the difference maker in this game.
Do you think you will be up there challenging for the title at the end of the season like the bookies predicted?
If you were to look at the table at the moment, you would say that Wolves look to be almost nailed on for promotion, but behind them are Sheffield United, Cardiff City and Bristol City. Three teams that nobody expected to be up there. Despite the inconsistent start to the season, Boro find themselves well and truly in the mix now in fifth. My heart says that we will be in the top two come May, but my head needs to see some more evidence before it is convinced.