leeds united 1-1 sheffield wednesday: half-marathonBack
While Marco Silvestri’s contribution drew a lot of the ire after a win became a draw at Bristol, Uwe Rosler was keen to concentrate on the positives, as well he might.
There were plenty. Leeds weren’t terrific at Ashton Gate; they’ve not been terrific in any game under Rosler so far, preseason or in-season. But they were good, good enough for a 2–0 win, and good enough to allow some players their due praise — Chris Wood for getting his first goal, Kalvin Phillips for impressing again — while others took their due flak.
Changes were expected against Sheffield Wednesday because changes are expected in every game, now. The season is young and Rosler is still new, to us at least, but a pattern of squad rotation appears to have been definitely set, and following closely is a pattern of close scrutiny of Rosler’s team selections.
That’s inevitable, and he must know it. Everything in football is subjected to close scrutiny, and that’s why one of the worst things you can say about a player or a manager is that they don’t do anything — that they’re hiding. Rosler doesn’t hide, and he knows what to expect when he writes down another changed lineup and sends it out into the world. If things don’t go United’s way by fulltime people will look at that teamsheet and raise their eyebrows at the changes Rosler made, and the changes he didn’t make. ‘Silvestri again? Really?’
Retaining Silvestri in goal was the big pre-match call. People — me — spent time and words after the Bristol City game promoting the idea that, with Ross Turnbull available after a commanding performance against Doncaster, the time was right to hook Silvestri from the limelight and try a different approach at the back. Rosler brushed all that aside in his press conference on Friday, declaring that Silvestri would play against Wednesday no matter what; and, you know what, he wasn’t wrong.
Unlike midweek, there was nothing Silvestri could do about Wednesday’s goal, as the ball dipped and swerved up and around and past him and into the net; and Wednesday, with their low-rent Zlatan tribute act upfront and tactics based around moderate violence upon the body of Charlie Taylor, didn’t have much else that could trouble him.
Liam Cooper came back into the side too, but didn’t particularly look much more secure than Giuseppe Bellusci after all; Sol Bamba still had to get through more than his fair share of sweeping up. Apart from that the rest of the team was the same as at Bristol, and the majority of it the same as at Reading.
Sticking with those players turned out to be as big a call as sticking with Silvestri. Kalvin Phillips was rightly singled out for praise by Uwe, with particular focus on the distance he clocked against Bristol City; 13.3km, more than any Premier League player managed the weekend before. Presumably he put in a similar distance at Reading on Sunday. And by Saturday lunchtime, it showed.
Phillips’ booking at the very start of the game was harsh, especially given what else the referee let go, but it set the tone for his performance: losing the ball mid-trick, he tried to chase his opponent, couldn’t catch him, and yanked his shirt. (As an aside, the ref seemed to have a real thing about tugged shirts in midfield, treating Tom Lees as if there was no earthly punishment equal to the offence when he did the same thing in the second half.) That was Kalvin Phillips for the rest of the game; not bad, but not up to the pace of the game either, and unable to provide much in the way of either creativity or dependability in the middle of the park.
Tom Adeyemi was much the same. Under par, not in any gross way, just not at his best, and not winning the midfield the way an enforcing general needs to if the team are to win games. While Sheffield Wednesday didn’t do much that was impressive in a dour first half, Leeds were unable to take any sort of advantage, because they didn’t have the advantage in the centre of the park.
Adeyemi is new here, didn’t play much football last season, and is relatively inexperienced at 23; Phillips is even fresher, making only his eighth appearance in first team football, three of which have come in the last seven days, during which he’s run a couple of half-marathons. They both had every right to be knackered by the time this game came around, and that makes it all the more difficult to understand why Uwe Rosler played them.
Phillips in particular has been playing well, but as the various interruptions from Scott Wootton have shown, playing well is not necessarily directly linked in Rosler’s thinking to playing in the next game. Alex Mowatt has also been playing well, but he started on the bench again; Luke Murphy has been injured but praised to the hilt as he’s made his comeback — but was benched as well. When they came on — Phillips making way, while Adeyemi benefited from having more energetic support alongside him — the game changed.
Suddenly Stuart Dallas, who had been fairly anonymous, looked dangerous; when Sol Bamba, Baresi-like, brought the ball out of defence and gave it to Mowatt, he showed composure and a trick and passed it wide to Dallas, and Dallas became dangerous. This was Snodgrass-like, and it has been that long since we’ve had anybody we could compare this play to; by nutmegging one defender, he deceived and beat two — efficient — and he rolled the ball like a marble onto Chris Wood’s feet for his second in two games. Sheffield Wednesday’s goal might have been spectacular, but this was gorgeous.
How much more gorgeous play we might have seen had Mowatt and Murphy been pulling the strings from the start will never be known. But after all the talk of endurance this past fortnight, or getting through “the schedule” intact, almost as if any result from any game was enough because the fixture list was so severe, it was an odd move on Rosler’s part to put an inexperienced and tired pair in the thick of the action. It was always going to be a relentless — ish — Yorkshire derby.
Momentum gained, Rosler promptly killed it in the closing stages; with Dallas finally involved, he was substituted, and Doukara came on and did nothing. Another draw achieved, another point, and another match that left a lack; a sense that there’s something missing.
Fernando Forestieri, from Watford, might be that something; the inspiring flash that will lift Leeds from this George Grahamathon’s grip. Or maybe the answers are already here, once the schedule loosens and Rosler and the players have time to review; we’ve barely seen Lewis Cook, due to suspension; we’ve seen the current limits of Phillips, but we don’t yet know what Rosler can get from Murphy; Mowatt, Dallas, Antenucci and Wood all look like they’re ready to give us something.
Leeds United have put in the kilometres so far this season, but it’s only taken us forward step-by-step: one, one, one, one. Rosler needs to find the next gear, and that’s going to make his next teamsheet one to watch out for.