The loss at Sheffield Wednesday Sunday shows that Leeds United currently have a problem playing away from Elland Road. Despite the wins away at Nottingham Forest, Sunderland, and Bolton Wanderers, the club’s recent form away from home suggests that the team isn’t being smart about games that they can play open, attacking football and games they need to go out and just earn a point.
Den atmosphere makes you thunder into tackles - Millwall defender on crunching tackle on Leeds United... #Millwall https://t.co/XBNwzO8mKx— Millwall Talk (@Millwall_TT) September 22, 2017
The loss against Millwall on the road exposed a weakness, that the club can be bullied off the ball by physical play. While Preston was able to contain Leeds in a similar fashion, Leeds was defensively responsible enough to keep the clean sheet. Of course, Millwall spent a good amount of the match going even further in the physical play, they were also successful at putting pressure on Felix Wiedwald, forcing him to into playing the ball long where he is not at his best.
Cardiff once again showed how success teams can be interrupting the play out of the back. Pressure was put on the goalkeeper, forcing Wiedwald to once again play the ball long and mistakes piled up, but unlike against Millwall, Cardiff was content to pack the midfield and force turnovers rather than relying on hoofed balls towards the striker.
Can't be said that Leeds haven't had chances today. Just made it too easy for Wednesday in and around their box.— Phil Hay (@PhilHayYEP) October 1, 2017
The loss at Sheffield Wednesday, however, was not a case of the other team imposing its will physically or a team hoofing the ball or a team exploiting a single weakness. After weathering a storm of attacks from Leeds in the first 20 minutes or so of the match, Wednesday went on the attack, taking the game to Leeds and the defence and keeper and midfield had no answer.
So how to fix this problem? That’s what Thomas Christiansen and his staff must do. However, the Championship is a marathon, not a sprint, and while it’s nice to go on long streaks where the team doesn’t concede a goal or doesn’t suffer a loss, there comes a time when a nil-nil draw on the road is a perfectly acceptable result.
Going to Hillsborough and looking to attack a desperate Wednesday team seems a little foolish when looking at it, especially with two quality strikers in Steven Fletcher and Gary Hooper going up against Matthew Pennington who hadn’t started a match in almost two months. While it might not be possible or even desirable to switch formations, there is no reason that Ronaldo Vieira couldn’t have been played in a more defensive role in midfield, or have Vurnon Anita hang back and cover instead of playing Kalvin Phillips and Eunan O’Kane who are more suited to going foward.
As for the wingers, given that Stuart Dallas is the most defensively responsible of all of the wingers, he should have been given the start instead of Gjanni Alioski or Kemar Roofe, as they aren’t able to track back nearly as well. The team can’t blow past every other team in the league on a regular basis, sometimes you have to shut up shop and defend, and in those matches you can’t be starting both Roofe and Alioski and expect them to be able to provide defensive cover.
Thomas Christiansen shouldn’t be trying to win every match. There is no shame in a 46 game season to go out and play for a nil-nil draw away from home. Preston, despite not looking very threatening against Leeds earlier in the season currently sits on 20 points, the exactly same as Leeds, with only one loss on the season. It might not be pretty, and it might not win you any manager of the month awards or get people to write articles about your tactical genius in the press, but nil-nil draws on the road will get you promoted out of this league, and that’s what everyone wants, isn’t it?