Thanks to a series of mind-numbing decisions by Leeds United players, the club will be missing four usual first-team regulars due to suspensions. Leeds are currently sitting in 10th place, three points out of the playoffs. With only one win in their last five matches, the playoff positions are starting to slip away for the second straight year. And while luck, injuries, and squad depth could be called into question, the truth is that the players have only themselves to blame for this mess.
Leeds are now missing four regular options for the first team right now. Captain Liam Cooper is out after a straight red against Millwall, his second red card of the season. The second red card this season means that Cooper will miss the next four matches. Leeds are still missing Samu Saiz, as he is still serving his six game ban for spitting in the FA Cup loss at Newport County. The normally steady Eunan O’Kane is out after a headbutt against Ipswich Town, and after picking up a yellow card against Millwall, Kalvin Phillips will now miss two matches for yellow card accumulation.
Scored as many goals today as our previous 5 games combined & lost— LUFCDATA (@LUFCDATA) January 20, 2018
3 red cards in 3 games; 5 red cards in 2017/18 - most of any Championship side.
First home defeat v Millwall since 2010
First Millwall away win in 2017/18
Saiz, O'Kane, Cooper and Phillips all suspended now.
We already knew life was going to be difficult after Saiz was suspended. It was a pointless moment of madness from the Spaniard, but this rash of discipline problems is set to drag Leeds down the table and out of the running for the playoffs. Losing at home to Millwall, despite the furious comeback that almost got Leeds the three points, is a disaster for the club. Yes, Leeds are still only three points out of the playoffs, but are currently in 10th place with a number of challenging matches coming up. No fixture should be taken for granted in this league, but giving Millwall their first away win of the season is not something a promotion contender should be doing.
There has been criticism about the transfer policy of Leeds Director of Football Victor Orta and the number of young players brought in instead of first team players. The coaching of Thomas Christiansen has also been brought into question. However, if the season goes down in flames in the next month, the blame lays entirely on the players.
As much as fans would like to question where the money from the sale of Chris Wood to Burnley has gone, the point remains that the only real gaping hole in the Leeds lineup was at left back. Orta went out and got a left back with Champions League experience in former Club Brugge left back Laurens De Bock. Central midfield, a position that had its depth exposed by injury, was even addressed with the signature of Adam Forshaw, who was signed from Middlesbrough.
The only position that hasn’t really been addressed that remains in flux is the striker position, but if Pierre-Michel Lasogga has the kind of match that he did against Millwall instead of the the dismal performances he turned in against Brentford and Reading FC, then he will be more than adequate for the Championship.
What cannot be planned for, however, is four (!) members of the first team missing through suspension. Liam Cooper is now out for four key matches because he went in high on a Millwall player after losing the ball. While the red card was harsh, and appeared to be “sold” by the Millwall player, it was still an unwise challenge to put in, given the position on the pitch.
O’Kane and Saiz both got red cards for off-the-ball situations that were entirely preventable. Both of them will now miss important matches because they lost their cool. It’s worrying that they’ve allowed themselves to get wound up by an opponent as they did, because then all opposing teams need to do is get in their faces to try and provoke a reaction to gain an advantage.
The only suspension that could be considered the “cost of doing business” would be the yellow card accumulation by Kalvin Phillips, but even then, he’s had a number of rash challenges in past matches where he’s dodged a red card, with the bad challenge on George Baldock against Sheffield United being the highest profile of them all.
Victor Orta can spend all the money in the world on new players and Thomas Christiansen can draw up the best tactics in the world, but none of it matters if the players can’t stay on the pitch. Injuries may come down to bad luck, as with Luke Ayling set to miss the rest of the season after coming off injured against Nottingham Forest, but getting sent off for entirely preventable reasons makes the jobs of the management at the club even harder.
The other players at the club will now have to step up in the absence of their missing teammates. Ronaldo Vieira did not look fit against Millwall, so hopefully the break and training in sunny Spain will help him recover in time for next weeks’ match against Hull City. Adam Forshaw will be pressed into action, and the return of Stuart Dallas will be like a new signing, given the amount of time he’s missed after being injured while on duty for Northern Ireland.
It is very lucky that the club still has Pablo Hernandez on the roster, as he can step in at a critical position for Saiz. Additionally, the absence of Liam Cooper will allow Matthew Pennington the chance to prove that he belongs in the starting lineup. If Leeds are somehow able to get a series of good results in February, then they might still be able to sneak into the playoffs, but it won’t be easy. And if the club stumbles, don’t blame TC or Orta. Blame the daft players for getting themselves suspended.