Our Biggest Play-Off Danger Could Be Ourselves - Notes for Leeds United
Friday, 3rd May 2019 11:20 by HarryFromBath
HarryFromBath assesses the mood in the opposition camp ahead of Sunday’s final league game of the season at Portman Road by delving into their forums.
“So, Sheffield United have beaten Ipswich, meaning our fate is all but sealed. I am glad it has come now and not in a week’s time. The players and staff can now reset mentally knowing their fate and focus on the final four games of our season”, “Whatever happens we have had a cracking season.”
Leeds go into the final game of the season needing a point to confirm a third-place finish ahead of West Brom, but for many Whites it’s a case of what might have been. Easter defeats at home to Wigan and at Brentford dealt a fatal blow to any hope of finishing in an automatic promotion place.
“It has been a great season, just a disappointing 10 days.” Sunday’s 1-1 draw at home to Aston Villa confirmed that their route to the Premier League would have to be via the play-offs. Fans are proud of how their season has played out despite the obvious disappointment of the last two weeks.
“All is not lost. The automatic places have gone, but anyone can win the play-offs and we have a one in four chance of it being us”, “It has been a fabulous season, with some great high points, it’s just a shame we hit the wall over Easter”, “We witnessed a revolution this season. It has been astounding.”
“Let’s get that spark back”, “Sheffield United showed how to wrap-up a campaign. The pressure was on them to get results over Easter. They wrapped-up those games despite missing key players”, “Our ability to cope with pressure worries me. The biggest threat to us winning the play-offs is ourselves.”
“I have this sickly feeling in the pit of my stomach that we will play Derby and that they will turn us over. I already can see Frank Lampard's smug face at Elland Road after the Spygate thing [When Marcelo Bielsa admitted watching Rams’ training sessions in January]. It would be typical Leeds.”
“Marcelo Bielsa has done a terrific job this season with such limited resources. Remember that most of the squad were the same players that didn't play so fluently together last season”, “If he stays and most of the squad sticks with him, I am very confident that we can go up as champions next season.”
The 63-year-old ex-manager of the Argentina and Chile national teams replaced Paul Heckingbottom last June. He has been praised for guiding a squad he largely inherited - and which ended last season on the identical 60-point mark as both Ipswich and Norwich – to this season’s promotion challenge.
“One man has changed an entire club's way of thinking and everybody's lives. He's actually doing it for the city and Leeds fans all over the world too”, “Even the neutrals feel we deserve promotion this year as we've played some very entertaining football all season, and people do seem to like Bielsa.”
“I'm not sure there is a coach out there who could have got any more out of this current squad of players. I'm sure it will be tough for Bielsa if we don't go up, he seems like he's put everything into the season. I hope he musters the fight for another crack next year if the worst-case scenario arises.”
“He came to this country thinking that his normal tight squad model would see us through, but this is the most competitive division in world football”, “The system hits trouble when you get injuries and suspensions. The injury toll was crippling at times and he admitted it was heavier than he expected.”
Mental and Physical Tiredness
“This season has been one of the best for a very long time. We have seen some of the best football played for many a year. It just comes back to that old chestnut of not converting our chances and it has probably cost us going up the easy way. Then again we have never done anything the easy way.”
Bielsa’s Leeds team have won a host of admirers playing a brand of intense high-tempo football with an emphasis on industrious pressing and moving the ball with speed and imagination. Many feel that a Championship season playing this football has taken both a mental and physical toll on the squad.
“We have played well all season by dominating possession. We try and move the ball forward quickly but one pass too many is often allowing teams to get back into their defensive shape, resulting in the final third becoming crowded. It becomes more difficult to find space or get any clear sight of goal.”
“We dominate teams and have played teams off the park at times, yet in some games we cannot put teams to bed”, “It's attacking quality and variety against the scruffy, dogged, resolute teams that has cost us, not endeavour. We are vulnerable on the counter because our full-backs join in the attacks.”
“Our squad lacks the quantity of quality needed for the rigours of our division”, “We have had such a fantastic season looking at how last season ended. We’re on the right path, but sometimes you need a little push. Our not adding a few players in January was a missed opportunity for fresh impetus.”
Bielsa has favoured a 4-1-4-1 shape, and the starting XI (above) for Sunday’s Aston Villa game was missing both left-backs, Ezgjan Alioski and Barry Douglas, with knee injuries along with striker Kemar Roofe with a sore hip. Injuries have led to players moving out of position with such a tight-knit squad.
Leeds have a solid central defensive unit, with January signing Kiko Casilla adapting quickly to English football in goal and the experienced duo of Pontus Jansson and Liam Cooper protecting him. Right-back Luke Ayling has regained his attacking form after two months out with a knee injury in October.
Bielsa has experimented with out-of-position defender Gaetano Berardi or converted wide attacker Stuart Dallas in the problematic left-back position. “Cooper and Jansson are like jackals at the back but the real problem is at left-back. We keep putting right footers there and they have no chance.”
“Without Kalvin Phillips the whole team shape and dynamic changes, and not for the better.” Bielsa has been praised for transforming Phillips after moving him to a deeper midfield role where both his passing and reading of the game helped the midfield balance beside the defensive Adam Forshaw.
“We were much better in midfield with Phillips and Forshaw as this helps to release Mateusz Klich and Pablo Hernandez.” Fans have linked the tiredness of Klich and Hernandez in recent weeks with the team’s inability to convert their chances. Few would complain if they were rested on Sunday.
“We need to try a different structure in central midfield. Klich is trying to do too much and he gets pulled around, leaving space for players like Brentford’s Sergi Canos to exploit. At times there are gaping holes in the middle of the park, Wigan also exploited space by running through the middle.”
“The loss of Samuel Saiz and the failed purchase of Swansea’s Daniel James in January cost us dearly. We needed a player to run at defences and create for others.” Many would prefer the direct running and goal threat of Tyler Roberts on the left flank instead of the quick but inconsistent Jack Harrison.
“I worry about our decision-making and the quality of balls into the box”, “We have no fire power, we had another 27 attempts on goal against Villa for one goal, and you can argue that it should not have counted”, “I have everything crossed that we can find more sharpness up front and get goals.”
With Patrick Bamford suspended on Sunday, most expect to see Kemar Roofe return to help rebuild his match fitness. Roofe is praised for his clever movement and industry, but Bielsa might also give Izzy Brown some time, with the Chelsea loanee having had a season blighted by a series of injuries.
“Whatever way you look at it we are really missing a clinical finisher”, “We should be more clinical in front of goal. There is no Leeds fan who can make any sort of excuse for our lack of goalscoring given the attacking style of play we have. It's ridiculously below the standard of a promotion-chasing side.”
Leeds 1 – 1 Aston Villa
“Just got back from the game and it was just the sort of feisty display we needed. We were better than Villa today and, given that they have been so strong recently, it gives me hope”, “I was pleased with that. We battled well and Villa don’t fill me with as much fear as before should we meet again.”
Tempers boiled over in an evenly-contested game when Mateusz Klich put the hosts ahead after 72 minutes. With Villa striker Jonathan Kodjia on the floor, Leeds’s Tyler Roberts appeared to be ready to put the ball out for a throw-in, but he played in Klich who curled a low shot just inside the post.
In the ensuing fracas, Villa's Ahmed El Ghazi was sent off for an alleged elbow on Patrick Bamford, who fell to the floor holding his face despite no apparent contact. Bielsa ordered his players to allow Villa to equalise, and Albert Adomah was allowed to run through to score into an unguarded net. Bamford has subsequently been banned for two games, starting on Sunday, while El Ghazi’s dismissal was overturned.
“Well, it was certainly eventful, entertaining, controversial and you couldn't take your eyes off it. The best bit for me was that we seemed to get our mojo back after the dismal showing against Wigan. It bodes well going into the play-offs”, “At least we will have some impetus going into the play-offs.”
“On the plus side, Roberts has improved us. Villa were scared to death of him.” Bielsa removed both Dallas and Harrison for Berardi and Roberts on the left flank, and many fans felt that the changes did improve the team. “We had much better balance to the midfield with Roberts playing on the wing.”
Brentford 2 – 0 Leeds
“Here we go again, another day where it's just not going our way”, “Goodbye promotion. We will never get through the play-offs with our inability to score goals”, “Brentford look more dangerous than we do in attack. For us it was the same old, plenty of possession but nothing to show for it.”
Referee Keith Stroud inexplicably denied a Leeds penalty when Patrick Bamford was brought down by Julian Jeanvier before Neal Maupay fired the Bees in front on 45 minutes. Sergi Canos tucked in the hosts' second on 62 to seal victory, leaving visiting fans ruing a succession of missed chances.
“It was the same old story. Loads of possession, poor finishing, missed chances and inept defending resulting in another loss. Our defence opened up like the Red Sea and Maupay walloped the ball into the back of our net. Bamford and Roberts had two very similar chances and they both fluffed them.”
Fans felt that Bielsa’s decision not to start Phillips for tactical reasons in the starting line-up (above) was an error as it left them porous in midfield. “That was two of our poorest overall performances in our two most important games. If that's not bottling it, I don't know what is. It’s so typically Leeds.”
Leeds 1 – 2 Wigan
“Well, that was just Leeds all over really, wasn’t it? It seems we are much more comfortable chasing an automatic position than defending one”, “The same old story, the lion's share of possession, 36 shots on goal and only one goal”, “We may just have blown our chance of going up automatically.”
This Good Friday game started well for the hosts when Wigan’s Cedric Kipre handled on the line on 14 minutes and was dismissed. Pablo Hernandez's penalty hit the post Patrick Bamford put Leeds ahead shortly after, but Gavin Massey scored on 44 and 62 minutes for the Latics to stun the hosts.
“We bottled it big style, a lack of composure at crucial times and we fell for two sucker punches”, “The final ball was terrible. We looked hesitant every time we got into promising positions. We were lethargic, Wigan looked dangerous on the break and tried to exploit spaces in behind the full-backs.”
“Just when we didn’t need the Leeds team of last season to turn up, they did”, “We wouldn't score in a month of Sundays. There was no fun in watching that, it was a form of mental torture. We were absolute garbage in the final third”, “My poor old heart can’t cope, Leeds are trying to kill me off.”
Fans were happy enough with the starting line-up (above). Bielsa swapped Phillips and Roberts for Forshaw and Roofe at the interval in an attempt to wrest back the initiative. “We were too repetitive in attack. We lacked composure and looked so predictable”, “Typical Leeds, let’s do it the hard way.”
Goalkeepers and Defenders
“Kiko Casilla has been excellent since arriving in January.” The 32-year-old ex-Real Madrid keeper “is so decisive, he makes his mind up and that’s it. It has led to a few heart stoppers but by and large he has been spot-on”, “Very assured and a superb shot-stopper, and also has fantastic concentration.”
Francisco Casilla (Leeds United)
“Signing Kiko helped tighten our set-piece defending, especially corners where we were vulnerable in the first half of the season”, “He dominates his box, a keeper that actually catches the ball and he doesn’t make any mistakes”, “I hate it when he sometimes comes rushing out of the penalty area.”
“Luke Ayling was the one player exempt from the Wigan shambles.” The 27-year-old ex-Bristol City right-back “was head and shoulders above the rest”, “He had a storming game both defensively and offensively. He was all over the park, running forward and linking up play. He was back to his best.”
“Ayling struggled after his knee injury in October”, “He didn’t have an attacking bone in his body. He froze getting forward and was weak defensively. His confidence appeared to have gone as every ball he played was backwards or sideways”, “He has recovered his form lately and is way more positive.”
“Gaetano Berardi is a decent versatile defender on his day.” The 30-year-old former Sampdoria man “helps in seeing out games and tightening-up our defence either playing at left-back or in the middle of the defence as cover”, “He isn’t our most skilful player but can fill in as long as he keeps his head.”
“Berardi is one player you can trust to give his all”, “He has been very good at centre-back but at full-back he is not up to it and is an obvious target for other teams’ wide players”, “He brings extra steel to the heart of the defence but his weakness on the ball is a weakness that other teams can exploit.”
“Liam Cooper is one of our big success stories this season and I’m pleased for him.” The 27-year-old ex-Chesterfield centre-half “will make mistakes or be outwitted by the best forwards in the division, but he has been more consistent than Pontus all season. He saved our bacon on so many occasions.”
Leeds United's Liam Cooper (L) and Ronaldo Vieira V Forests' Apostolos Vellios
“I'm worried about Cooper's recent lack of composure”, “He reverted to type in recent games, diving in, taking opponents out and pressing the panic button”, “He has come on in leaps and bounds this season, but it still feels like he has a stumble, a misplaced pass or a hare-brained moment in him.”
“Pontus Jansson, wow, what a player.” The 26-year-old ex-Malmo and Torino man “is typical Leeds. He’s like a boxer who's never beaten. He rises up time and again, comes back for more, gets a knock, looks out of it and still comes back”, “He’s a colossus who will head clear every cross into our box.”
“Pontus was not at all happy with Bielsa's decision to allow Villa to equalise”, “Have you noticed how he and Cooper are more disciplined this season? He always looks composed on the ball and some of his control has been unbelievable”, “He’s immense and imperious, playing as if he owns the shirt.”
“Every time Jamie Shackleton comes on, he impresses me with his pace and energy.” The 19-year-old youth product “has that little bit of magic to him and we could do with some of it to drive us forward from the middle”, “He has never let us down and for such a little fella he’s got some heart.”
“Shackleton definitely caught my eye at right-back. He’s quick, and though not necessarily a natural defender, he is so fast that he was able to get the ball back if someone goes past him”, “He slotted into the first team seamlessly, and my word he’s quick, moving from full back into attack in a flash.”
“Adam Forshaw is a water carrier rather than a creative force.” The 27-year-old ex-Boro man “is at his best when he is solid and industrious”, “He wins every single tackle and recovers the ball for us”, “He was everywhere against Villa, putting in a real David Batty performance”, “Back to his best.”
“Forshaw does some very good things in games but he is definitely too casual at times and it costs us goals. He needs to get that habit out of his game”, “He does give the ball away in dangerous areas at least twice a match and usually at the beginning of each half. He should recognise his limitations.”
“Mateusz Klich hasn't been himself recently.” The 28-year-old Poland international and former FC Twente man “could do with a bit of time out. He's the least effective of our midfield players recently and looks a bit lethargic and laboured”, “He is being carried. He looks tired and his touch is poor.”
“Klich plays in a difficult position in football, a mixed midfielder who does a lot of things which can be on the right or left. He has to close down and attack defenders. He has to know how to attack and defend in the middle”, “He was pulled around at Brentford leaving space for Sergi Canos to exploit.”
“We look vulnerable at the back without Phillips.” The 23-year-old youth product “is excelling with his distribution and he’s taking full advantage of the extra space and time he has sitting deeper on the pitch”, “His passing ability to build out from the back is an integral part of Bielsa’s playing style.”
Kalvin Phillips (Leeds United) v Joe Garner
“Phillips had Jack Grealish in his pocket against Aston Villa”, “He didn’t put a foot wrong and always seemed to be there to clear up any mess, making essential tackles”, “When he plays well the level of the team increases greatly, and he provides a steadying influence in front of Jansson and Cooper.”
Wingers and Wide Midfielders
“Stuart Dallas is a steady Eddie.” The 28-year-old ex-Brentford man “is a utility player who can play a role in a closely-bonded squad without being an unknown”, “He should not be playing in defence. He will do his best without a doubt, but he gives me kittens every time I see him playing at the back.”
“What is the point in bringing Dallas on, ever?”, “He is an honest grafter and a trier. There are times when he does something really good, but not often enough to make him a regular starter. His other problem is that he is really only good for about 30 minutes in each half before he runs out of steam.”
“How does Jack Harrison keep his place?” The 22-year-old Manchester City loanee “is an average footballer. He has fabulous close control skills but can beat himself without any intervention from a defender”, “He works his socks off and defends well, but he’s like a headless chicken going forward.”
“Harrison should not be signed permanently”, “He always tries to be close to goal to create chances, but usually without scoring”, “He can play excellent, quick, 20-yard passes and he has real pace and trickery”, “He is struggling to get things right, although his effort and work-rate cannot be faulted.”
“Tyler Roberts was really good against Villa.” The 20-year-old Wales international “is strong on the ball and carries a threat with passes. He gets into positions that defenders find hard to pick up. We have a serious talent”, “I would be very tempted to play him front at Ipswich if Roofe is not ready.”
“There is much better balance to the midfield with Roberts playing out on the wing. I’m an advocate of using players in their natural position and his is either outside or through the centre up front”, “He needs goals to add to his decent displays. He needs 10 chances to get one on target, let alone score.”
“Our key man Pablo is shattered.” The one-time Swansea midfielder “looked all of his 34 years of age at Brentford. Over the Easter he struggled to deliver a decent corner or freekick, and his telling passes were absent”, “He needs to be rested now ahead of the play-offs, there’s no reason not to do this.”
Pablo Hernandez v Dominic Iorfa
“When Pablo plays well, we look good as a team. He made us tick and without him we are nothing”, “He’s a clever player whose ability and influence in our attacking play is so important”, “His presence and silky skills can orchestrate and dictate our attacking play, but he’s exhausted from carrying us.”
“Leeds without Pablo is such a depressing prospect. He’s a joy of a player and our most talented in years”, “He is up and down by nature. He can be unplayable in one game, average but effective the next week down to ‘gone missing’ the following match. He is still our best chance of creating goals.”
“Jack Clarke can’t skin a rice pudding since his illness. He should be wrapped up in cotton wool for the season.” The 18-year-old youth product was taken ill in the dugout during the Whites’ February draw at Boro and has been used as a bench option recently. “He is not the impact player he was.”
“I felt so sorry for Clarke over Easter. This is a youngster with an abundance of raw talent which he has already demonstrated, but absolutely nothing went right for him against Wigan or Brentford. He is not fit either physically or mentally and he should now be taken out of the fray until next season.”
“I would give Izzy Brown a run for the last two matches.” The 22-year-old Chelsea loan signing “is probably the most natural goalscorer we have. Roberts or Roofe may give you more around the park in terms of link-up play, but Brown gets goals and goals win matches”, “It’s time to risk it with him.”
“We need a little bit more variation and spice going forward, and Brown could give that. He’s a bit of luxury player, but we may as well gamble upon him in these games before the playoffs”, “He will not give you everything in terms of pressing but he has that ‘in the right place’ eye for goal about him.”
“Will Bielsa give a half-fit Roofe a run out against Ipswich to sharpen him up?” The 25-year-old ex-Oxford United man “has a problem with his hip and can’t use his maximum speed”, “He does a lot for the team with his movement, and he also plays a big part of the number of chances we create.”
Kemar Roofe makes it 1-0 to Leeds
“I bet Roofe sleeps at night. He’s selfless and his work for his team is something else, even by Leeds’ current standards”, “He never stops and his movement is great, but he doesn't hold the ball up well which often cedes possession”, “He give the ball away and commit stupid fouls trying to get it back.”
“Why do we not convert chances? Personally, I think it's because Roofe isn't clinical enough. He may get 15 goals, but he won't get 30, and that's what you need”, “His good movement creates chances for others in midfield, but he needs too many chances to score. He needs to play off the last man.”
Leeds Fans’ Views on ITFC and the Game
“Hopefully we get back to scoring goals at Ipswich. It will give us a feel-good factor going into the play-offs”, “Physically the players are up for it but mentally they are exhausted. Resting a few of them at Ipswich would be a good option if done with us treating the play-offs as a three-match tournament.”
In typical end-of-season fashion, a game which had a huge amount riding on it before last weekend’s results suddenly has little significance apart from securing a favourable play-off draw for the visitors. Most Leeds fans see it as a chance to rest weary legs or build match-fitness ahead of the play-offs.
“Prior to the Villa game and up to half-time I would have thought a draw against Ipswich would be a result, but now I think we should win by a couple of goals with a solid performance and also a clean sheet”, “A lot will depend on if we rest players for this one to keep them fresh for the play offs?”
“I hope Bielsa rests some players at Ipswich, even with a sprinkling of U23s in the team I would hope we can get a result there”, “We slipped up against teams like Wigan but should have enough to beat a dead and buried worst team in Ipswich history. Not my words, but those of a local Ipswich fan.”
There are a number of busy Leeds message boards. LUFC Talk and Marching On Together have interesting and well-informed discussion, while some excellent blogs can be found at our sister site To Ell And Back. Leeds United highlights are available on the Multimedia menu as well as Ipswich Town and for the whole of the Championship and other EFL leagues.
Have a Great Summer!
It has been a truly wretched season, but one of the constant consolations has been the friendship and camaraderie I have found all season from fellow Town pilgrims. I hope you all have a wonderful summer and that the kind weather helps dim the memory of much that we have had to endure.
I want to say a heartfelt thanks to Phil for his constant kind support and invaluable journalistic input, and to Gav for the way he takes my manuscripts and makes them so website-friendly with brilliant pictorialising.
Most of all, thank you all so much for taking the time to read these Notes and add so many insightful comments. The forums next season may be smaller than those in the Championship but if there are any small insights worth feeding back, rest assured that they will be found! Have a great summer!
And many thanks from Phil and Gav to Harry for the Notes, which have become an important and well-loved aspect of TWTD’s pre-match coverage over the last few seasons. Enjoy the summer and a couple of months’ rest before investigating those League One forums!
Photo: Action Images
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