Leeds United sacked their manager, Thomas Christiansen, last night after a very poor run of form. Leeds last won on Boxing Day, and have fallen out of the playoff places after a dreadful run in the league that saw the team take only two points in January. In addition the putrid form in the Championship, the club lost 2-1 at Newport County in the FA Cup after beating the same League Two team 5-1 at home back in August in the League Cup.
However, are the poor results all the fault of Christiansen or is the Director of Football, Victor Orta, the one who should take the blame as well? Orta came to Leeds after a rather spotty recruitment record at Middlesbrough, so it was sort of a surprise when he was handed the keys to Leeds so soon after Boro slumped out of the Premier League last season.
Me neither. There's some quality players in that team they've all become a shadow of themselves recently. That's down to the coach.— Brandon Yates (@BrandonYatess) February 5, 2018
If Twitter is anything to go by, there is a lot of angst being directed at Orta right now. He has brought in a number of players that have not performed well, and the current injury and suspension crisis at the club would not be as much of an issue if a few more players had been brought in during the January transfer window. And while the club has brought in over a dozen players into the youth system, fans wondered why the emphasis wasn’t placed on recruitment for the first team.
The problem with blaming it all on Orta is that it ignores just how poor the team performances have been recently, and how sharp the contrast has been with earlier matches in the season. Leeds were top of the league back in September, but seemed to get bullied off the pitch against Millwall and Cardiff City. Despite a great win against Burnley in the League Cup, the team looked unable to get back to the quick passing game that had saw it shred opposing teams in the earlier part of the season. And while December brought the hope, and play-off places, back to Leeds, all of the faults of November and October reappeared in a rather dismal January.
Orta brought in a number of good players into Leeds, and took chances on other players while attempting to replace the departed Kyle Bartley, Chris Wood, and Charlie Taylor. Matthew Pennington was brought in on loan from Everton to replace Bartley, Pierre-Michel Lasogga was brought in on loan to replace Wood, and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson was brought in on loan from Manchester United to replace Taylor. Lasogga was the highest profile of all of these players, as he had an impressive goal-scoring record at Hamburger SV before injuries and a falling-out at the club make him surplus to requirements. Borthwick-Jackson was rated as one of the best prospects in all of England only a few years ago, and Pennington had performed well in loan spells before.
Of these loans, Pennington has shown the most promise, although he’s been limited by injury. Lasogga was also injured and has been one of the most inconsistent performers at the club. Borthwick-Jackson was returned on loan, and looked rather poor after a decent start. However, these three loans don’t necessarily reflect the whole of Orta’s recruitment.
Samu Saiz is absolutely the crown jewel of Orta’s recruitment at Leeds, as he’s shown to be a player of great quality many times during the season. It is not surprising to see the club struggle in his absence, as he was banned for six matches after spitting at an opponent during the FA Cup match against Newport County. Saiz has fantastic talent, and has gone from a question mark to the first name on the team sheet.
Gjanni Alioski completed just 11 passes throughout the 90 mins (50% pass acc). He was dispossessed 8 times, committed 4 fouls, failed to win a single tackle, complete a successful cross or take-on.— LUFCDATA (@LUFCDATA) February 4, 2018
Needs dropping. #LUFC
The other high-profile recruitment of Orta has been Gjanni Alioski. Signed from FC Lugano, his performances during the season have mirrored the success of the team. He looked fantastic early in the season, but his recent form has been rather shocking. He’s still put in the work, tracking back and showing commitment, but has missed seemingly simple shots in the past two matches that would have turned the game around for Leeds. Alioski’s scored five goals and had four assists this season, but has looked like a shell of his former self from earlier in the season.
Adam Forshaw was brought in during January, and he’s been brilliant in the past two matches. Laurens De Bock, the left-back brought in from Belgium, has been a good addition as well. We’ll see how Tyler Roberts, the striker brought in from West Bromwich Albion, will do when he makes his debut. Three problem areas were addressed in the January window, even if a deal for another central defender wasn’t pulled off after Conor Shaughnessy was carted off injured against Hull City.
I do sympathise with Christiansen. Hasn't had a full squad to work with at any stage and this list of missing players is beyond a joke. But Leeds are going to have to be better than that tonight.— Phil Hay (@PhilHayYEP) January 30, 2018
The problem right now at Leeds isn’t just a problem with injury, but a problem with poor discipline. The club has played with 10 men on seven different occasions this season. Gaetano Berardi and Liam Cooper have both saw red on twice. For the captain, Cooper, and one of the leaders, Berardi, to both see red twice is damning. Suspensions are killing the team right now, and that falls on the manager.
Christiansen literally said during a press conference that he wouldn’t tolerate any more red cards, and yet the next day, one of the players got sent off again. And against Cardiff City, Berardi once again saw red, forcing an already thin back line reduced even further.
Orta may have not had a 100% record bringing in players, but at some point the responsibility for getting results has to fall on the coach and the players. Christiansen may be dealing with the players that are given to him, but the inability to keep the players from getting suspensions might have doomed the season.
At the start of the season the football was unbridled and full of imagination. Now it feels like the same horse getting flogged relentlessly.— Phil Hay (@PhilHayYEP) February 3, 2018
Finally, back in August and September, Leeds had an identity. Felix Wiedwald played the ball out of the back on the ground, Leeds passed the ball around and while no one would mistake Leeds for Barcelona, the team scored goals and looked fun. The same team that could have put 10 goals past Burton Albion in September had to resort to a comedy free-kick routine to beat the same team in December. Whatever mojo the team had under Christiansen is now gone. It was time for him to go. If another coach comes in and struggles with the same players, then the questions need to be asked of Orta.