derby county 1-0 leeds united: some motionBack
The right changes in the right places have transformed Leeds United this season, putting diamond formations in the past and diamond players in key positions.
Pontus Jansson we know about; Kyle Bartley we’ve heard of. We’re hearing more now about Eunan O’Kane, too. At first he looked (to me, anyway) like he didn’t really do much; but he’s an influencer, almost as responsible as the formation for setting down a style of play.
That style, for all its Hernadez and Sacko, is a lot to do with security, which is a nice feeling for Leeds. Compare the first half at Brighton last season, when there was nowhere on the pitch where the ball could not be considered a threat to our goal, to the first half at Derby, where Robert Green was only troubled once and it was Leeds who got closest to goal, hitting the woodwork through Bartley.
That’s what additions like Jansson, Bartley and O’Kane have done for Leeds. They’ve made us a self-secure outfit, who can, as they did at Derby, safely allow the other team to have the ball and dominate possession. If a team had that much of the game against Leeds last season, it would only be questions of when and how many, as Bamba and Bellusci used up the good part of their good-to-mental play ratio with last ditch defending, often just trying to stop Scott Wootton scoring.
Jansson and Bartley, with O’Kane and Phillips (but preferably Bridcutt) in front of them, offer a new style of protection that minimises chances against us, and adds greater capability to stop those few chances from going in. Possession, for Derby, didn’t convert into pressure, and without pressure there were few chances. United looked comfortable, where in recent history they’ve looked anything but.
Which is all very nice, but it’s a bit dull, isn’t it? I mean, watching Derby County passing the ball around to little effect is not the stuff scintillating Saturday afternoons are made of for Leeds fans. Give me bomb-scare Bamba, at least for a moment; just so I can check I’m still alive.
It’s not only me that needs it. By the time Derby scored, just before the hour, Leeds had become so somnolent there was no rousing them for the explosive thirty minutes that was needed if they were to get anything from the game. Leeds plodded on much as they had before; if anything, Derby looked inspired to get another, overjoyed that even without applying much pressure they’d managed to nick a goal anyway.
It wasn’t until Marcus Antonsson came on for the last ten minutes that Leeds looked dangerous, and were unlucky that his beautiful curving shot hit the post (add that to Bartley’s: we could be talking about a win here). God, he’s really good, isn’t he? The physical likeness to Davide Somma was spotted immediately; now we have that other element of Sommaness, a sparky, inventive striker that doesn’t fit in the team.
Could he convert to the wing? Hadi Sacko, a machine for missing chances before the international break, didn’t create any to miss, either for him or Chris Wood. With Stuart Dallas injured Alex Mowatt had a go on the other side, but later suffered the indignity of being replaced with Matt Grimes. Perhaps Antonsson could do better between them, where Pablo Hernandez revived that losing the ball under pressure in Bristol thing and made it into his main act.
I’m sure they’ll all do better because we’ve seen them all do better; perhaps it’s time for Kemar Roofe to take a turn while Dallas is out, and try to lift his game to the Championship. Roofe hasn’t been brilliant straight away, but then he doesn’t have to be — until recently Cameron Stewart was the benchmark — but he normally looks awake when he was appeared, which would be beneficial if Leeds continue with this safely, safely approach.
Of course, I don’t really mean that I want Bellusci, Bamba, Wootton and Silvestri back to the reintroduce the random in the heart of our team. What we have now is better; better players doing better things, allowing us watching to leave our hearts out our mouths, in our chests, where they should be.
What I don’t want to see too much more of is teams like Derby — who started the day 20th, and with a new manager, for chrissakes — having things so easy on the ball, even if them having the ball is easy for us. Our new sense of backfield security shouldn’t leave us looking so complacent, even away from home. There should have been a point, long before Derby scored, when their lack of threat was established and our defensive credentials were confirmed, that Leeds took the game by the scruff and made it about us having the ball, not them.
Perhaps Liam Bridcutt would have offered that; perhaps Garry Monk, if he hadn’t been sat in the stands. Perhaps because these are still early days, and we’re still learning about the changes and their effects, Leeds are rightly wary of throwing our hard-earned caution into even a mild headwind. And but for a few inches of post, we might have won the game anyway, which shouldn’t be ignored.
But, we should have won this game. Derby have been pretty bad this season, and we’ve been pretty good, and that the game and result didn’t reflect that might go down as a missed opportunity when points really need to tally.