A single blemish on an item of clothing is occasionally commented on, but often ignored. A stain that has ruined a single garment might be observed and noted whenever it is worn. But if that single blemish starts to appear on every item of clothing you own, and everywhere you go people are talking about your stained clothes, maybe it’s time to do some laundry. Seven defeats in nine games makes for quite the stained wardrobe for Thomas Christiansen.
When you’re coaching a club where the defacto answer to poor performance has been “sack the manager, spin the wheel of chaos”, then it’s only normal that dissenting voices start to gain in volume. Perhaps a victim of his own initial success, TC guided Leeds to the summit of the table and rather than allowing our form to float gracefully back to ground, we’ve plummeted like an ACME anvil dropped by Wile E Coyote. Strange, perhaps, that despite abject misery and stuttering performances have been set against surprisingly little movement in the table. Leeds are still 6th, yet are second from bottom in the form table. Beneath Sunderland and Bolton.
Sacking Thomas Christiansen?
The frustration from my perspective is in the number of people already intent on replacing TC. I often think (nay, hope) that my peers who have experienced the same decade that I have would have learned why short term reactive decisions are dangerous; we’ve known little else other than owners angrily mashing the reset button every few months yet somehow being perplexed that little progress is being made. Andrea Radrizzani has made well considered decisions with the ambition of creating a longer, more stable future. It doesn’t seem likely that he would burn this to the ground because Leeds have struggled to look competent of late.
The problem isn’t solely Christiansen’s, though he is not without blame. For 60 minutes against Derby we were dominant and dangerous. I had even Tweeted how much better we had looked. I’m sympathetic to TC when he says that the problem isn’t the tactics nor necessarily the selection, but the focus and attention that is applied during games. The Derby game did show this. We were much better and comfortably capable of winning the game, yet after an hour of endeavour and only a single goal to show for it, those demons started to creep into our game. Complacency, inattentiveness and lack of effort invited Derby to exert themselves on us more and more, with Luke Ayling over-committing in attack leaving us woefully over-exposed at the back.
Gary Rowett had told the Derby side at half time that were they to score, Leeds would not handle this situation well. He’s right, too. Where we were once a side prided on our ability to win from losing positions, we’ve managed to become experts at the opposite. Seemingly the nagging doubt behind only being 1-0 up starts to creep into our play, “if they score then we’ll go on to lose”, “just one mistake and we’ll lose the game” and so on. It’s certainly not helped by crowds jeering every missed pass or throwing their arms up in exasperation when something doesn’t go our way. Though I entirely understand; we pay a lot of money to watch Leeds compete and it’s frustrating when players look unwilling or unable to do this.
Though it is worth noting that awful officiating played a significant role in this result, with a stonewall penalty (and red card?) rejected for Leeds, yet a clumsy (but outside the area) challenge against Derby resulting in a penalty. Which Winnall cheerfully converted. But Leeds should have been capable of putting this game to bed irrespective of this.
But as I said, while the problem isn’t solely Christiansen’s, there is a degree of culpability on him. Ignoring the obvious aspect that the head coach should be drilling the players into a tactical system, nurturing positive qualities and eroding the negative traits that make us fall to pieces. I always draw back to the same argument with him and it’s one of his own making.
When he was interviewing for the role, his USP was that he arrived with a presentation/dossier on key games under Garry Monk that Leeds failed to perform in and what changes he would have implemented to turn them around. Yet, here we are, living a very familiar Groundhog Day of underperformance and reluctance to adapt tactics to change our fortunes. TC presented himself as a tactically intelligent manager who could win games other coaches couldn’t by applying a different system to counter specific threats. Yet, we’re seeing the repetition of a system that isn’t working, the selection of players that also aren’t working and the negative results are somewhat starting to pile up.
There’s an argument to be made about recruitment, too. Kyle Bartley was never properly replaced and it’s hard to overstate his impact in the squad last season. Charlie Taylor’s absence at left-back is increasingly obvious, given we didn’t bring in a suitable replacement. Chris Wood, too, is hard to replace in that he perfectly fit what we needed and it’s therefore no surprise to consider that we haven’t replaced him with an equivalent quality player. Rob Green, too, was replaced by Felix Wiedwald who has since been dropped due to appalling form. While it’s clear that we’ve strengthened in a few places, there’s a spine of quality that we’ve weakened in order to build more quality around it.
Sacking Christiansen would be a silly thing to do, though he has placed pressure on himself by now calling the Brentford game a “must win”. This can’t go on indefinitely and the squad need to find a way to win – which is a ridiculous statement because we know how to win, we just don’t know how to not self-destruct.