In Marvel’s ‘The Avengers’ they make the point that mankind’s work with the Tesseract was “a signal to the Realm that Earth is ready for a higher form of war”, which is precisely what Leeds did by going top. By winning games and being top of the table we invited a higher form of competition. Every side wants to beat the league leaders, doubly so if that side is Leeds United.
Where we started September with a champagne performance against Burton it quickly descended into a humiliating collapse away at Millwall. While we did respond to such disappointment against Burnley and Ipswich, Cardiff was another reminder that not only is this league difficult, but Leeds are not the finished product. Another physical game simply bullied a fragile squad aside and while “3-1” doesn’t seem to be awful, the performance truly was. Anticipating that the group would respond to such a high-profile and public battering, we rolled into Sheffield.
Wednesday are a side I personally expected us to beat. We’ve been quite good against sides who try to move the ball more, because we’ll snatch possession and pull their players out of position. Yet having endured 90 minutes of miserable, uninspiring, passionless football where Leeds lost to 3 unanswered goals, I think it’s time for introspection and analysis.
There isn’t a single player that you can blame for an all-round poor performance today. As such, I’m going to demonstrate this by commenting on everyone.
- Wiedwald – requires more analysis which I’ll do below, but he needs to find his feet very quickly indeed now
- Ayling – often Leeds’ best player and did have a typically ‘Luke’ performance, but struggled to link up with the midfield to make use of the ball
- Pennington – okay, but with his partner in Jansson being routinely pulled out of position it’s hard to defend effectively.
- Jansson – a poor game for me. Was continually dragged wide to deal with overlapping Wednesday players meaning the inevitable cross was much more dangerous without him there to clear. Went off injured in the second half. For all his talk of needing more fight in the side, there was precious little here today.
- Berardi – it’s difficult for me to criticise Gaetano, but he was totally exposed on the left today. This meant Jansson was being drawn wide and making things very difficult at the back
- O’Kane – pedestrian in possession, perhaps the nagging doubts and uncertainty creeping into his game, but it felt like his distribution was too safe and simple today. Posed very little danger to Wednesday.
- Phillips – another poor game, too slow to react and off the pace. Tried to make it stick, but was more headless chicken than cultured, combative midfielder today. Hard to imagine him starting over Vieira next game on his last couple of performances
- Roofe – a total passenger in difficult games like these. He has value, but seems too single-dimensional to add threat once Leeds aren’t dominating. If we’re totally on-top, he’s a danger. If we’re chasing a game or having precious little of the ball, he’s anonymous
- Saiz – the only person who looked dangerous today, but even he was struggling to make things stick after the first half an hour.
- Alioski – tried but seemed to be playing at 80% effort rather than the 100% we demand.
- Lasogga – anonymous today, not much to feed on. Did hit the post, but ultimately it’s not enough
- Hernandez – came on for Roofe in the second half but simply couldn’t make anything stick. The tide had turned already.
- Sacko – came on for Alioski, and if Burnley was a performance that showed what Sacko can offer, this cameo was the opposite.
- Dallas – came on for the injured Jansson and while he’s been a key performer for Leeds, out of position on the wrong end of a drubbing isn’t the kind of position it’s fair to analyse him in
Of all the above, I think there are obvious fixes that we can immediately deploy for the Reading game. Vieira is hungry to perform and has looked exceptional when given a chance. I’d move him into midfield ahead of Phillips – who I think needs a little bit of protection. He’s been great this season, but I think giving him a break will be best. Change things up a little and get Vieira in to make us more deliberate in midfield.
I’d also suggest rethinking playing Roofe in difficult games like these. Hernandez or Dallas are obvious candidates depending on how much of the ball we think we’re going to get (Hernandez for more, Dallas for less). Alioski, Saiz and Lasogga are key to how we play and aren’t required to change.
I think it’s worth considering what we do with Felix Wieldwald. Not that you can drop the blame for an appalling performance at his feet, because the entire team failed to perform. BUT, he has looked truly dreadful in the last few games. The warning signs were there early on today, when he palmed a simple shot back into the penalty area as he did against Cardiff. This time, fortunately, no one was there to capitalise. Not because he was careful, he was just fortunate. The ball did go into an area containing Wednesday players, it just didn’t drop nicely for them. But his reluctance and inability to commit to claiming balls is hurting us badly, now. Too often he finds himself in No Man’s Land, torn between flapping at a cross or staying on his line. Inevitably he ends up stranded somewhere between the two, waving his arms ineffectually as Gary Hooper scores past him.
As a goalkeeper you need to ensure the ball is getting dealt with. If your defender isn’t getting it, then you get it. Don’t move if you’re not 100% committed to the action you’re making. You can’t criticise Wiedwald for the third goal (nor their entirely valid, not-offside goal that was ruled offside), but the other two I think you can. Much like Cardiff, where a better keeper like Green would have kept us competitive, Wiedwald crumpled and let the opposition gain that foothold. As pundits rightly observe, a side like Leeds that is setup to counter attack will always struggle when trying to chase a game. A weak goalkeeper makes this a much more likely scenario.
It’s becoming apparent that his clean sheets were greater testament to the defensive job going on in-front of him rather than any comment on Wiedwald’s ability between the posts. I desperately hope he finds his form soon, because soft goals like today will single-handedly lose us points on another day. Fortunately (for him) there were many other players performing badly today making the result something the entire team needs to shoulder, but on another day against another side, the things he does could cost us dearly. And we need only look back at last season to consider how fine the margins can be at the top of the table.
We said that this gauntlet of difficult games would be the proving of Leeds and they have been, I guess. We now know that we’re not going to win the league effortlessly. We now know that physical sides will dominate us and weak performances in midfield will entirely undo anything else we can hope to achieve.
When Thomas Christiensen interviewed for the Leeds job he brought a dossier on key games that Leeds lost last season with him, and presented how he would have changed these games. It’s time for him to get cracking on his homework, because this is now 3 losses in 4 league games against sides that Leeds are entirely capable of beating. Wednesday were there to be beaten, our initial play in the first half showed this. But again we capitulated and it’s time for the head coach to understand why and make changes to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
The downside is, Cardiff was a repeat of Millwall. Wednesday wasn’t new either. These aren’t 3 distinct freak occurrences that we couldn’t have anticipated, but sides playing the way we knew they would, yet still failed to have an answer for them.
While we are still in the playoff places, other sides are finding form as we’re losing ours. It’s time to kick things up a gear.