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Leeds United find themselves in a very similar situation to last season. The Whites started off the season in blistering form under new manager Thomas Christiansen and were made the early favourites to take home the EFL Championship title this season.
However, a recent blip in form means they have slid down the table to 5th place. Leeds have now lost three away games in a row – a 1-0 defeat to Millwall, followed by 3-1 and 3-0 losses against Cardiff City and Sheffield Wednesday this past week. Their poor form away from the Elland Road was one of the biggest reasons why they ended up finishing outside the playoff positions last campaign. And Christiansen needs to nip this downslide in the bud, if his side is to be right at the top come the end of the season.
Here are three immediate changes that he should make, if he is to get his team out of this rut.
In the past few games, the left-back position has been one big issue for the Whites. With Charlie Taylor gone in the summer, Gaetano Berardi became the No.1 choice. But an early injury to the Swiss defender meant summer arrival Vurnon Anita was asked to fill in.
The Dutchman did admirably for the first few games, but endured a couple of poor games which coincided with Berardi’s return from injury. The 28-year old was reinstated to the playing XI, but he has struggled since his comeback and has been exposed brutally in the last week or so.
Christiansen needs to sort out this issue at the earliest if he is to arrest the slide in form. Leeds have brought in Manchester United defender Cameron Borthwick-Jackson on loan, but the manager hasn’t given him enough opportunities in the team, despite the youngster impressing whenever called upon. Blooding the youngster to succeed could prove to be a smart option at this point of time.
On Sunday, against the Owls, Leeds conceded really soft goals in the first-half that arrested all the early momentum that they had created through Samu Saiz. This is something that the manager has realised and he spoke about the need to address it at the earliest.
The way the Wednesday players got the better of the Whites’ defenders in terms of physicality showed a lack of grit, determination and the necessary defensive steel, exposing the soft core of the Leeds defence. The fact that Pontus Jansson picked up what looked like a serious injury doesn’t help that either.
However, if Leeds are to bounce back strongly, Christiansen needs to work on this aspect of the game with whatever defensive options he has at his disposal, and add the bite and steel that seemed to be missing in recent weeks.
The Leeds midfield got completely overrun by Sheffield Wednesday this Sunday, which played a major hand in their downfall at the Hillsborough. Eunan O’Kane, who has been one of Leeds’ best players this season, had an absolute stinker of a game, while Kalvin Phillips too did not enjoy the best of the outings. Both have been the automatic choices for Christiansen in the middle of the park this season and have repaid the faith more often than not.
However, O’Kane seemed like he was yet to completely recover from whatever illness that kept him out against Cardiff in the midweek. Mateusz Klich started, and had an off day, indicating that he is still not ready for regular first-team action, while Phillips has been literally ever-present and may need a bit of a rest as well.
In such a situation, giving Ronaldo Vieira a run in the starting XI wouldn’t be the worst idea for the manager. The youngster was a regular under Garry Monk last season and was very impressive. He has shown that he can perform at this level and deserves to be given more chances than what he has been afforded so far.