Leeds United had an extremely impressive first seven matches in the Championship. After seven matches Leeds was undefeated, with five wins and two draws, and was riding a six match clean sheet streak. The next seven league matches were not nearly as kind to the club, as after the Millwall match, Leeds have won twice and lost five matches. So when is a “slump” a trend? And when is a “trend” the new normal?
Five defeats in seven starts to look like a sustained slump. Leeds need this squad to work for them. A lot of players on long contracts.— Phil Hay (@PhilHayYEP) October 28, 2017
Everything was going wonderfully in the first seven Championship matches of the season, and Thomas Christiansen could do no wrong. Promotion talk was prematurely in the air, and national publications were busy writing “Leeds are back!” stories. Even the two League Cup matches were wonderful, with Leeds cruising past two League Two opponents in Newport County and Port Vale.
Oh have things changed over the past seven league matches. The club has only won two league matches, against Ipswich Town and Bristol City, while losing two Yorkshire derbies against Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday, losing away to Millwall, away to Neil Warnock’s Cardiff City, and also losing at home to Reading FC, who are having a nightmare season after losing in the playoff final to Huddersfield Town last year. And while the club did beat Burnley in the League Cup on penalties, they lost 3-1 at Leicester City in a match which displayed just how big a gulf in class exists between the Championship and the Premier League.
Leeds will play Derby County, Brentford, Middlesbrough, Wolverhampton, Barnsley, Aston Villa, and Queens Park Rangers in their next seven matches. The club is out of the League Cup now, so there won’t be any additional competitions to clog up the fixture schedule, but there will still be two midweek matches, Tuesday’s match against Derby County and the match against Wolverhampton will be an away match on Wednesday, 22 November.
Leeds have to get their season sorted in the next seven matches. After these next seven matches, it will be mid-December and it will be two matches before the half-way point of the season. If Leeds are in or within a few points of the playoff place, an infusion of cash and talent will be justified in the January transfer window. However, if the club continues playing like it has during the previous seven league matches, Leeds will be nowhere near the playoff places, and the club will much less likely to shell out the cash to try and chase promotion this season.
With only the two midweek matches coming up, Christiansen needs to figure out his best XI and stick with them to get some rhythm. Right now the defence is a total mess, and it can’t be helping that there has been a new partnership almost every single match in central defence. Gaetano Berardi hasn’t been perfect at left-back, but he’s better than Vurnon Anita, so he needs to stay healthy and control his anger. At this point, if Cameron Borthwick-Jackson plays at all again it would be surprising, even if he didn’t look totally out of place against Leicester City in the League Cup. Luke Ayling will hopefully get some rest, because he’s looked tired and slow to react on two game-winning goals for both Reading and Sheffield United.
Pierre-Michel Lasogga needs to either play better or Christiansen needs to see if Kemar Roofe can play up top again, because the “quanity over quality” strategy towards replacing Chris Wood has not worked out. Lasogga started out with a bang, but has looked awful against Reading and Sheffield United. Pawel Cibicki has played two fairly anonymous matches in the League Cup, but hasn’t gotten a sniff in the Championship. Roofe has at least scored in the league after scoring a hat-trick against Newport County in the League Cup.
Jay-Roy Grot needs to go on loan or something, because while he’s got all the physical tools, he hasn’t looked like a goal-scoring threat at all. The best thing he’s done all season is send Charlie Taylor flying out of touch during the League Cup match at Burnley. If anyone has any clue why Christiansen keeps throwing him out there at the end of the match when Leeds need a goal, only to have him try and break down defenders on the dribble 30 yards from the six yard box, please explain it to the rest of us, because it makes absolutely no sense. You think a guy who is as big as a tree would get in the box so the midfielders can try and hoof balls at him, but that’s apparently not in the big man’s wheelhouse.
The midfield needs sorting, but only because there has to be a way to get Ronaldo Vieira involved more. O’Kane’s been pretty solid, and Kalvin Phillips has been Jekyll and Hyde all season. The match against Sheffield United is a good way of summing up Phillips’ season: a brilliant goal scored on a wonder volley and an infuriatingly awful tackle that he should have saw red for.
The other position that absolutely needs sorting is goalkeeper. Andy Lonergan has filled in well, but he’s not going to be a keeper that can take the club to promotion, at least not at this point in his career. Felix Wiedwald looks more comfortable with the ball at his feet than he does when it’s flying at his head in the six-yard box and that’s a problem. Either Wiedwald needs to find his courage like the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz or he needs to move on.
Look for these issues to be sorted in the next few matches, otherwise Leeds will struggle and the aim will be for mid-table mediocrity, not promotion. Andrea Radrizzani has invested heavily in the squad and in the team, and will be disappointed by the position the club finds itself in. The club is still in the playoff positions, even with the losing skid. Christiansen and Orta still have an opportunity to correct the problems and get the club back to where it was for the first seven matches. The response to these last seven games, and how the club does in the next seven, will determine how everything will go the rest of the season.