It’s frustrating that Virgil van Dijk’s injury hasn’t stopped being discussed in relation to Liverpool’s mixed league performances, meanwhile pundits have been all-too-eager to talk about our defensive frailties without ever mentioning how ridiculously makeshift our back-line is.
Perhaps this isn’t surprising given the commentary team for the Spurs game referred to Stuart Dallas as “Leeds born”, proving they haven’t the foggiest about us. This was a particularly annoying trait in the opening games when pundit after pundit would suggest our players call general training “murderball” rather than the specific Wednesday session in question. It was barely mentioned in our opening game against Liverpool that a centre-back pairing of Robin Koch (someone who had been with the club barely 10 days after returning from International duty having just signed) and Pascal Struijk, a defensive midfielder who didn’t even feature in our Championship campaign let alone trying to keep the reigning champions at bay.
This pattern has continued. We haven’t had a fully-fit defensive roster to choose from yet, so we simply don’t know who between Cooper, Llorente and Koch is Bielsa’s preferred CB pairing, or whether there’s genuine legs in this Ayling/Struijk pairing that seems to be getting by okay. But it certainly stands to reason that our more leaky games could be justified by the fact that we’re playing people out of position in a league everyone is still working to adapt to. I personally feel we played fairly well against Spurs, but a back-line of a right-winger, left-winger, right-back and defensive midfielder does seem to suggest conceding goals is likely.
It’s sad that for all the pundits celebrating our relentless attacking intent there’s so little said about how we’re just trying to keep ourselves competitive without a single fit recognised centre-back. Liverpool weren’t exactly without alternatives with VVD injured, whereas smaller sides like ours struggle quite heavily. We’ve even had Paul Merson talking about how we need to completely change philosophy in order to avoid relegation without any reference to our depleted squad.
I’m quietly hoping that Leeds obtain some kind of Premier League record, for conceding the most goals and staying in the division. I honestly don’t care about clean sheets as much as I care about survival. Teams that can’t score goals get relegated. Those that score plenty but concede plenty tend to do okay and that’s how 2020/21 is going to be for Leeds United. We’ll beat West Brom 5-0, we’ll lose 4-1 to Leicester. We’ll beat Villa 3-0 and get thumped 6-2 by Scum. We’re better than enough sides to not worry too much about relegation – and gradually adding better players to this system will increase the number of teams we can overcome.
To that end, it’s clear that January is going to be fairly quiet on the transfer front for Leeds. I’d like to see a new CM come in to provide some relief for Klich who has started to look like he needs a break (which is understandable given he has played six thousand games for Leeds in the last 18 months). It’s hard not to insist that Rodrigo De Paul is the solution, but I’m quite heavily invested in that rumour now. I sense we’ll be retaining the current squad into the second half of this season.
Bielsa will lean on Jamie Shack and Stuart Dallas to plug that midfield gap, as well as deploying part-time-Pablo to run the show when needed. Overall it’s weird to feel comfortable having just lost 3-0, but I think we’re fine.