The problem with presenting yourself as a tactician is that there’s an expectancy that you’ll change systems and approaches to adapt to specific threats. The problem Thomas Christiansen finds himself in is that he’s done the former and not the latter. After another horrendous performance of uninventive, non-cohesive, tactically naive football fans are rightfully enquiring specifically what he brings to the club. As much as you can sympathise with TC for an unusual lapse of discipline at the club (4 red cards in 5 games will deplete any squad), there are real problems in his performance that I think it’s unfair to overlook.
He makes the right noises in press conferences, in terms of identifying what threats oppositions pose and how Leeds should play to address that. Ahead of Cardiff he rightly said that Neil Warnock would instruct his side to be physical and probe our area with high balls and set piece deliveries that can cause chaos. The problem is that there was no tactical change to address any of those concerns.
Leeds played (as they always do) a 4-2-3-1 formation, despite overwhelming evidence to support the notion that two central midfielders get overwhelmed in difficult games. With Saiz suspended, Christiansen persists with playing Roofe at #10 despite that often being tantamount to playing with 10 men when in challenging contests. Vieira has looked a shadow of his former self lately and sloppy with the ball, yet isn’t shielded, he’s persistently picked and lambasted by fans.
If you judge the head coach only on team selection and coaching, then Thomas Christiansen does deserve scrutiny. As much as there’s criticism to levy at Leeds’ recruitment policy (and I will come to that in a moment), with the tools at his disposal it’s frustrating that TC is either unwilling or incapable of changing formation or adapting the system. There comes a point where one has to accept that the method you like isn’t effective and that a different way needs to be found. Yet we Groundhog Day our way through games and face sitting at the bottom of the form table as we slip ever lower in the league table.
I’m not a fan of the continental system that Leeds employ and I never have been. I think it’s unfair that head coaches are entirely capable of losing their jobs based on unsuccessful or unambitious transfer policy that they have zero control over. As much the club talk about ensuring that the head coach is consulted and embraced throughout the entire process, the reality is that Victor Orta (as the Director of Football) is responsible for the acquisition side of things, TC just needs to deal with training and selection.
So when the club asserts that it made no sense to try to bring in more centre-backs because the squad would have a surplus when everyone was fit, it’s hard to criticise Christiansen for having no CB’s available. Though persisting with a formation that exacerbates this situation is his fault. I do think the club have failed to adequately replace Chris Wood and Kyle Bartley, despite spending a significant sum of money. But as one journalist rightly identified, signing ten £1m players does not adequately replace one £10m player.
The cynical argument that redesigning the badge in the middle of the season is merely a distraction technique seems to hold more water than I originally gave it credit for. Inadequate transfer activity with a head coach who doggedly refuses to adapt a tactical system in lieu of obvious shortfalls… It’s impossibly frustrating to build your weekend around Leeds games only to spend more time disappointedly critiquing the same shortfalls every single week.
I don’t condone Tweets directed at Andrea Radrizzani angrily telling him to sack Christiansen because I don’t doubt that Andrea is abundantly aware of how poor Leeds have been of late. Any football fan could tell you where Leeds are going wrong, it doesn’t take a thousand annoyed notifications on social media for him to gauge the sentiment of the Elland Road faithful.
It’ll be interesting to see what the reaction to this result is. It goes beyond being beaten by Cardiff because performances have been dire for an awfully long time, as our league position spirals towards the 15th place spot that we have always joked is “ours”.
So, please, Thomas Christiansen…