When you first look to build something, you ensure you lay good foundations to build up from. In Kyle Bartley and Pontus Jansson, Leeds United have found two solid cornerstones to build upon for their rise towards the heights of the top six.
I have been a Leeds fan all my life and I have seen some great defenders grace the Elland Road pitch: Lucas Radebe, Jonathan Woodgate, Rio Ferdinand (before he defected to Manchester), and Dominic Matteo, to name a few.
However, after our well documented struggles, we have also struggled to find defenders who have given us the feeling some of the players named above have.
Paul Bulter, Richard Naylor and most recently Sol Bamba all arrived at Leeds United and gave good accounts of themselves. However, after a season or two, the adrenaline of playing in front of the United faithful dissipated and their performances fizzled out. Don’t get me wrong; all three gave a lot to the cause in their time, but sometimes that isn’t enough.
Now, I know it’s early days for us to judge the Bartsson (as I now call them) partnership fully. They have played with each other for just a month, but the difference in that time is unbelievable. It’s the first time in at least ten years that I can remember feeling confident in our backline.
By now, we have all seen the powerful tackles by Jansson. We have seen both men winning nearly every aerial battle, heading anything and everything that arrives anywhere near Rob Green’s 6-yard box.
And that class. But their impassioned defence as a whole is a thing to behold. At the weekend, against Barnsley, we saw how important their heading ability really is. Barnsley’s tactical mandate requires constant crosses into the box. However, they soon realised that weren’t getting anywhere and were left trying to play through Leeds, which ultimately cost them the game.
For me, it’s the simple things they do that I love. You can see both men’s defensive class as they don’t dive in unless they are sure they can reach the ball. They usher players out of play like they are walking their dogs on a Sunday morning.
They don’t try and be the hero and try to turn and beat players when they are facing their own goal. They just huff the ball into row Z or calmly play the ball back to the keeper too clear. You can see the experience and knowledge as they constantly motivate and organise the players around them.
I also believe that both Luke Ayling and Charlie Taylor both deserve a mention. Luke Ayling was my Man of the Match against Barnsley, but he didn’t do anything spectacular; he just did his job in a simple but brilliant way. And Charlie Taylor is a quality player, his ability to run past players and find space to cross is at Premier League standard. Rumours are circulating about another contract offer some time soon, and I hope Charlie signs on the dotted line. However, if he chooses to leave we should thank him and wish him well, as you can see that he has given everything for the cause.
They say the hardest thing to do in football is to put the ball into the back of the net. But if the team isn’t conceding many, at least you only have to do it once or twice a game. With Jansson and Bartley back there, we’ve done exactly that, not allowing more than a single goal per match since Jansson came on, and just four in seven contests.
We are all now at a stage where we believe the play-offs are a real possibility, and to achieve the goal of returning England’s top division we need a solid base. We have that in our new backline. Sign them up.
Agreed, Ryan. MOT.