reading 0-0 leeds united: right resultsBack
He’s watching and listening and he’s not afraid. That’s Uwe Rosler.
He’s also annoyed about the fixture list, even more so after Thursday’s unscheduled extra half hour, and the unscheduled penalties, and the limp way they finished. Going out of the first round of the League Cup isn’t a massive deal, but ask Sam Byram or Chris Wood how they felt about it as they tried to get to sleep in the small hours of Friday morning. There’s no nice way to lose a penalty shootout. Especially if you’re going to do it by wellying the ball as high into the sky as you can.
Wood and Byram stayed in, though, as they should; Wood cost a lot of money, and Byram is worth a lot of money, and both are key to how Rosler wants the team to play this season. Or, at least, how we think he wants the team to play.
“We have to live like monks,” he said of Leeds’ quick flurry of trips to Donny, Reading, and Bristol, before returning to Leeds to play Sheffield Wednesday — and even that’s a lunchtime, so there’s no chance of Friday night frolics in the safe haven of Leeds. “No sex and no alcohol!” he says. I wonder if Rosler is referring to a textbook response to an early cup exit, or an innovation of his own.
What we can’t do, amidst all this chastity and temperance, is be sure that we’re seeing Rosler’s ideas fully worked out. United have yet to catch fire at any point in preseason or in the first 300 minutes of the season itself, but there are reasons for that: Stuart Dallas is a late signing; Murphy and Cook, late absentees. There were bold changes at Reading, but we’re still not used to Uwe, and it’s hard to tell whether this is the team he wants, or simply a precursor to more bold changes at Bristol on Wednesday.
After Donny, Adeyemi simply had to replace Wootton, and hopefully bring to a permanent end thoughts of making Wootton into a midfield enforcer – or a midfielder at all. Of the other changes, it was tough to decide which was the boldest of them all; Cooper for Bellusci? Phillips for Cook? Still no Antenucci?
Each has its own curiousity. Bellusci was much improved at Doncaster, but lost his place to Cooper, or was rested. Cook obviously couldn’t play, but Phillips was a surprise replacement; a confident vote for youth, but one that might not continue if Murphy regains fitness for midweek. Antenucci has arguably been our form attacker of the season so far, but it hasn’t earned him a league start; he’s surely ahead of Doukara, but still can’t get into the team past a converted right-back and a big-money striker, neither of whom showed themselves to be especially deadly in the penalty area at Doncaster.
It won’t do to harp on the shootout misses for too long, but Wood does need to do something to follow his deflected goal against Everton and announce himself to the fans. It seems certain that Rosler is going to persist with him, at least, so maybe it’s a question of finding the right players to put around him to bring the millions of pounds of goals out of him.
In the end, it doesn’t look like these were the right changes, at least not to switch Wood on. One shot on target has that ominous last-season ring to it, or the last three seasons; while yet again Leeds ended the game far from Rosler’s preferred heavy metal 433 variants. Murphy for Phillips was inevitable and sensible, after seventy minutes for the younger player; Antenucci for Mowatt is becoming inevitable, Rosler switching to something closer to a 442, as he did in the late stages against Burnley, in an attempt to kick start Leeds as an attacking force.
Draws are fine, and away draws even finer, especially given the pressure of the fixture list we’ve been handed. There’s an air of just wanting to get to the other side of the Wednesday game, into a more regular routine of Saturday football. We’ve even got one at 3pm to look forward to, at Elland Road to boot, against Brentford on September 12th. Getting knocked out of the League Cup is a blessing in those circumstances, ruling us out of any midweek silliness between the Wednesday and Derby games.
But until we’re over that hump, the season so far feels like preseason extended; experimenting with players, tinkering with formations, getting players up to full fitness; taking the positives from less than ideal results. It’s understandable but dangerous. On the back of the positivity generated this summer, United’s biggest threat now is not failure, but drift; for impatient, excitement-starved fans to be made to wait for our new excitement-inducing players and manager to deliver on that excitement.
But he’s seeing and understanding and he’s not afraid, old Rosler, and if the performances aren’t there yet, the willingness to make cuts and edits promises them sooner rather than later. On an afternoon when Reading’s co-chairwoman delivered an utterly tin-eared misunderstanding of football culture with a pre-match motivational pop song and rap interlude, Rosler showed signs of getting it by choosing the wild option of Kalvin Phillips in midfield.
Wild, and not obvious, but if you’re a Leeds fan, it’s the option you want to see: when in doubt, give an Academy youngster a chance. It might not yield instant results; nothing so far this season has. But it demonstrates a good fit for the culture. Get the culture and the rest will follow; have faith that you’re making the right choices and, eventually, we’ll get the right results.