After just our second loss at Elland Road in six months, Leeds indifferent form has put them in 7th for the first time since November. After the ecstacy of Chris Wood’s equaliser at St James’ Park, the Whites came crashing back down to earth with a sorry display against midtable Wolves.
Here’s what we’re talking about after that match.
Talking Point 1 - Rotation may have been the key. A rare mistake from Monk?
Chris Wood’s equaliser at the death against Newcastle was a special moment. It caused widespread delirium in the upper reaches of St James’ Park, living rooms, pubs and bars across Leeds, and across the #LUFC hashtag. Leeds fans drank the moment in, and if anything like me, were still drunk from the euphoria all Easter Weekend.
But football managers need to keep a sober head.
Rafa Benitez was reactionary in making five changes to his Newcastle side. Despite their agonisingly-conceded equaliser, Friday was an excellent display by the Magpies, by all accounts one of their best of the season at home. The changes didn’t improve them, and Newcastle suffered a bad defeat at the hands of Ipswich on Monday.
On the inverse, Wood’s goal shouldn’t mask what was not a great Leeds performance on Friday night. It was spirited to stay in the game, and to create and convert a chance right at the very end, but Leeds were hanging on at St James’ and but for another Rob Green masterclass, could have been soundly defeated.
Monk said pre-game that he didn’t think anyone deserved to lose their place - would this still have been the case had Chris Wood not saved the day? Or if Newcastle had converted their many good chances and finished us off? It might change the points given out, but one moment does not change the balance of play and a 90 minute performance.
Even regardless of how the Newcastle performance is assessed, changes are surely useful - if not essential - when playing on a Friday evening and again on a Monday afternoon. Especially as the trip to St. James’ was one of the most intense of the season, Leeds chasing possession against quality opposition for long periods.
Ronaldo Vieira was unfortunately unavailable, leaving the options in the middle limited, but further ahead, the likes of Stuart Dallas and Souleymane Doukara have shown themselves to be adequate when called upon, and could have given the likes of Kemar Roofe and Alfonso Pedraza a rest.
Gaetano Berardi had a particularly poor afternoon against Wolves and made uncharacteristically sloppy errors. Left back is one of the few areas of the pitch we have an abundance of quality, and Charlie Taylor has done little wrong when called upon. Berardi has been excellent for Leeds this season, and his passionate dedication has him rightly loved by the fans, but he doesn’t offer as much offensively as Charlie Taylor, and that’s an area Leeds currently need all the help they can get.
Talking Point 2 - This is a crisis and big decisions need to be made. Radical action or back to basics?
Garry Monk’s calm demeanour has been a refreshing change against a backdrop of madness behind-the-scenes, and recent memories of the likes of Steve Evans and Neil Warnock on the sidelines are still fresh. That attitude and approach has been a huge part of Leeds success this season. There have been other bad moments, but Monk still knows the strengths of this team and never reactions disproportionately. Bad results have been reacted to - look at how Leeds performed against Preston, following the Brentford performance.
However, that Preston match was the only win Leeds have to their name in April so far, with three extremely poor defeats this month. That represents a genuine crisis at the most crucial of times - is that grounds for drastic changes?
Liam Bridcutt was particularly poor against Wolves, and was absent in our only good performance (Preston) of this barren run. Is it time to drop the captain?
Is the system getting the most out of our players? 4-2-3-1 has worked wonders at times this season, and has Leeds looking very solid most of the time, but has starved our striker of chances of late. A big tactical shift would be a bold call at this stage in the season, but the situation calls for bold calls. Maybe Kemar Roofe could play behind Chris Wood as a number 10?
The other option would be to go back to basics. Doukara is something of an enigma. He’s not looked individually brilliant or particularly dangerous. He’s patently not an exceptional player. Yet he often features in Leeds best results - the system appears to work well when the Senegalese is in it. Pedraza has impressed, especially against Preston and Newcastle, but to choose Doukara would demonstrate a - perhaps necessary - pragmatism.
One thing is clear - if Leeds don’t improve on the insipid display against Wolves in all three of our remaining league fixtures, the play-offs would be extremely unlikely. However Monk decides to do it, changes are essential.
Talking Point 3 - Jansson stays on the tightrope. For now.
Pontus Jansson is our most important player after Chris Wood, though he runs a real risk of missing the most important part of the season through suspension as he teeters on the brink of a three match ban, after picking up a fairly spectacular 14 bookings this season. After the caution he received at St. James’ on Friday night, there was talk of picking up a tactical yellow against Wolves to clear him for any potential play-offs.
It appeared that the Swedish man-mountain did everything he could to make that a reality on Monday afternoon - kicking the ball away, mouthing off - though the referee did not oblige him. Given Leeds’ loss, and the 3 points registered by Fulham and Sheffield Wednesday, that may well be a blessing, as we cannot afford to miss him in the run-in - especially as Liam Cooper continues to serve his huge six match ban, leaving us seriously short of options.
The time to pick up a tactical suspension has passed - Jansson must learn to adapt his game, for the next three league fixtures, and the play-off semis too, should they happen. It’s not an ideal situation, as Jansson is a player who naturally plays on the edge; to take that out of his game would be to lose part of his quality. You wouldn’t bet against Jansson inadvertently picking up a caution during the crucial run-in, and with three league games left, any suspension at this point would roll over into the play-offs, and it would be a minor tragedy to have the talismanic Swede missing from the back line.
So what do you think? Let us know how you’re dealing with Monday’s defeat and what you think Monk should do in the comments below and on social media. Three games left in the season. Here’s hoping we straighten things out, win on Saturday, and get back in the top six. MOT.