It’s a tired trope in football – when Plan A doesn’t look to be effective, you need a Plan B. And in this country, Plan B is often a thinly disguised suggestion of “put a big lad on and lump the ball forward, get it in the mixer”. MK Dons head coach Russel Martin fielded the question brilliantly in a recent briefing:
This is great from Russell Martin.pic.twitter.com/KabI7nMLle
— David Preece (@davidpreece12) March 8, 2021
Martin is exactly right here and the same applies to Leeds. We’re coming off the back of some very disappointing results and naturally there’s frustration, upset and analysis being attempted. We comfortably beat Crystal Palace and Southampton with little said about our obvious frailties or the limitations of Plan A. Yet we struggle to get going against Wolves and Villa, and we need to find other ways to play. Even worse when you look at games like Spurs or even West Ham on Monday and consider that we start strongly, concede naive or unlucky goals and then capitulate. Suddenly the notion of sticking to the tactical system that dragged a mid-table Championship side to the title seems far-fetched.
Bielsa’s system is locked in – and it’s clear to see why. Playing without fear and without trying to pay respect to your opponent is how we’ve managed to overcome established Premier League sides with the majority of the squad we played with last season. Look at what we’re needing to do:
- Bed-in a 20-year old goalkeeper who only played a handful of first-team games for Leeds last season into a faster, more ruthless league
- Find a way to cope without Ben White
- Bed in Robin Koch and Diego Llorente as replacements for Ben White
- Find ways to cope without Robin Koch and Diego Llorente as both have been injured for much of the season
- Find a way to get Pascal Struijk to look like a settled Premier League centre-back when he’d barely played for the club before
- Find a way to get by without Kalvin Phillips when injured/suspended, when we never found a way of doing this in the Championship, despite having Ben White accustomed to how we play
- Find a way to reduce our dependency on Pablo Hernandez, who single-handedly (at times) dragged us to promotion but isn’t going to win against Father Time.
It has never been a case of needing a Plan B. It has always been a case of needing to do Plan A better. Clearly the focus from the club is to gradually improve the quality of the squad so that individual errors reduce and ability to convert “goal threat” into “goal” increases. This will obviously be an emotionally difficult process because decisions will need to be made about players who have contributed so much to our journey. Alioski’s contract is coming to an end and we know the club are aware of a need to strengthen in that left-back/left-wing-back position. It would be a tremendous shame to see a character like Alioski need to move on, but for everyone’s love for his effort and personality, we are collectively aware of his limitations.
We probably know that Pablo won’t be here next season, and that’ll hurt beyond words, but objectively we know it’s the right move for everyone. Plan A works, the stats show it does and the fact we’re looking fairly likely to be in the Premier League next season suggests it does too. It doesn’t mean the first-choice 18 for Leeds require no further work however. Like Russel said, it’s about learning how to handle certain situations better in this system. It isn’t about changing the system.