So Leeds United went and won at Bramall Lane for the first time since 1992, and returned to the automatic promotion places as well. Of course, the game was not without some controversy and an injury to a key player. So what did we learn?
1. Leeds can overcome a stubborn team intent on not playing football
The shirt-pulling was just the most obvious point, but the almost constant fouling and kicking of the Leeds players by Sheffield United was one of the ways that teams can win in this division. Leeds could not deal with the shithousing very well last season, losing twice to Millwall and Cardiff City, but this season’s edition of the team has already gotten a result away at Millwall and just defeated Sheffied United away, when shithousing was at a pretty high level.
Last year’s team would have either crumbled or gotten a red card after confronting the other team, like the headbutts that Gaetano Berardi and Eunan O’Kane got tossed for last season. Marcelo Bielsa seems to have this team under control enough so that the emotions and frustrations don’t get the best of the players.
Leeds United face up to the loss of captain Liam Cooper after Marcelo Bielsa admits the defender has suffered a “serious injury”:https://t.co/9OtC8OyI2m— Phil Hay (@PhilHayYEP) December 1, 2018
2. Centre back depth is really, really needed
Leeds started the season with Liam Cooper, Pontus Jansson, and Gaetano Berardi as the central defenders in the first team squad, with Luke Ayling also available as cover. Early on, when asked about depth, Bielsa responded that depth wasn’t an issue, as Kalvin Phillips could also step in and play in defence.
And while it’s true that Phillips has been able to step into defence and play very well, the lack of defensive cover has been exposed once again, as Leeds has had to dip into the U23s to bring up Aapo Halme, and that was before the injury to Liam Cooper. So right now, Jansson and Phillips would be the first choice centre backs, and Halme would come in if a 3-3-1-3 formation is warranted by the opposition’s formation. That leaves no depth and robs Leeds of their best defensive midfielder, Phillips, as he would be used in the backline. It’s not ideal. And even when Berardi or Cooper or Ayling come back, Leeds would still be an injury or two away from being forced to play wingers or midfielders at fullback.
The Championship is a marathon, and to run it, you need the players to last. Even if the club doesn’t want to bring in someone to compete for playing time, then at least a loan recall for Paudie O’Connor, if that’s even possible?
Marcelo Bielsa on Jack Clarke: "Every time he plays, he adapts to the demands of playing for Leeds. He does not look like a young player. Every time he plays, he makes the difference."— LUFCDATA (@LUFCDATA) December 1, 2018
The 18-year-old registered his first senior assist for Leeds today. #LUFC pic.twitter.com/11XXrxReQA
3. Jack Clarke has probably done enough to warrant a start
Marcelo Bielsa had nice things to say about Clarke after the match, mentioning that he had made a “difference” in the match, which is about as high a compliment as you can get out of Bielsa. Alioski hasn’t been good for awhile now, with Bielsa noting that Alioski had played almost 30 competitive fixtures for club and country so far this season.
Thomas Christiansen seemed to prefer dropping Alioski after international breaks because of the travel and playing time commitments for the Macedonia international, but Bielsa doesn’t really believe in rotation, unless there is an injury or an issue that needs to be addressed.
However, Clarke, as Bielsa himself said, has been making a “difference” every time he’s been on the pitch so far this season. The match against Queens Park Rangers might be a good time to see how Clarke will do in a starting role. Even if Alioski needs a rest for a game, Jack Harrison, the Manchester City loanee, can come in and play on either wing in relief if needed.