Tag Archives: defence

Ben White Would be a Double Your Money Bargain for Leeds at ANY Price – by Rob Atkinson

Ben-White-Leeds

Ben White – limitless potential and a bargain at any price

Without any doubt, the revelation of the Leeds United season so far has been a young man called Ben White, a lad with no previous experience above League One level, having made zero appearances for his parent club Brighton. The challenge at Leeds for this comparative novice was a stern one. Signing on loan for the season, he came in the Elland Road players’ entrance almost as the iconic Pontus Jansson was making his exit with a shock move to Brentford. Among the United faithful, eyebrows were raised so high that they threatened to wind up on the backs of their owners’ necks. Teeth were gnashed and clothes rent asunder in biblical displays of grief and dismay. Pontus was gone, and we had this tyro no mark in his place, an almost comical proposition that had a section of the Whites support writing off Leeds’ promotion chances before a ball had been kicked. Oh, we of little faith.

Now, just nineteen games into a season that has seen White play every single minute of league action for Leeds so far, the doubters are having to gorge themselves on humble pie, to the extent that there may well be no room for the Christmas turkey in just a few short weeks. Mostly, they are happy to do this, because seeing this young colossus form a vital part of the Championship’s best defence has been a joyous experience. Bloggers such as yours truly have had to reach deeper and deeper into their bag of superlatives each week, and still it’s difficult to overstate just how integral to United’s success Ben White has been. I’ve seen him described as a latter-day Paul “Rolls Royce” Madeley, and it would be difficult around these parts to come up with a more flattering comparison than that. Others see a resemblance to Alan Hansen of Liverpool fame, still others point to the young Jonathan Woodgate, who saw at first hand last weekend just what United and White could do, as his Middlesbrough charges were swatted aside 4-0.

My own view is that White, who will doubtless face far sterner tests than the Boro men managed to set last Saturday, may well end up in a category entirely by himself – he has the potential to become truly peerless. Ben seems to have the lot – skill, composure, tenacity and that innate ability to read the game which is given only to the special few. My nearest comparison out of all the footballers I’ve seen in my 44 years as a fan, would be Franz Beckenbauer, the legendary Bayern Munich and West Germany icon of the seventies. In fact, if you could just graft a bit of moral compass onto der Kaiser, who was not above a bit of skulduggery as Leeds United fans are only too well aware, then you’d have a pretty close match. Ben White deserves to be mentioned in such company, he’s simply that good. He can play for and captain England, he can lift a World Cup, he can win titles, cups and Champions Leagues. Absolutely nothing is beyond this lad.

All of which is why I would say to Leeds United: whatever else you do recruitment-wise over the next couple of transfer windows, move heaven and earth to get Ben White. There is no price too high to make his capture anything but a thief’s bargain; whatever you pay, you could at least double your money five years down the line. It’s a Rio Ferdinand type scenario, buy for £18m, sell for £30m plus – but the return would inevitably be higher still. Never mind Financial Fair Play; dig deep and do whatever you have to do in order to get this player.

You know it makes sense.

Fulham 0, Leeds United 3; The Worries Behind the Win   –   by Rob Atkinson

Three kinds of lies

Three kinds of lies

A wise man once told us: “There are three kinds of lies. There are lies; there are damned lies – and there are statistics.

The point he was making, of course, was that the bare numbers rarely tell the whole tale; they can be twisted and manipulated to support a variety of points of view, depending upon the user’s level of dishonesty. Ask George Osborne about that – but don’t expect anything like the truth…

It was Mark Twain who popularised the quote; the identity of the originator is sadly lost to us. But, whoever it was, if he had been present at Craven Cottage last night to watch Leeds United seemingly cruise to a routine 3-0 victory over Fulham, then he might have found reasons both to praise and damn those pesky stats.

The main statistic of course, as Sky TV hacks are always expressing it, is “that little one in the top left hand corner of your screen”. The scoreline is the Alpha & Omega of statistics; a 3-0 win is a 3-0 win, decisive and indisputable. So mote it be. And yet, the other statistics in a game of football frequently bear critical examination. This is particularly so when that bare scoreline on its own might just lead us to false assumptions about form and performance. And the human element can also act so as to skew the outcome against all the logic provided by the facts and figures of a match. Last night at Fulham, if it hadn’t been for the frankly superhuman performance of Leeds keeper Marco Silvestri in all its elastically bendy brilliance, then the trend of the game’s shots on goal figures may well radically have changed the final scoreline.

Those damned match stats

Those damned match stats (Thanks to BBC Sport)

So, to get to the meat of the matter, the fact is that watching last night’s highlights is a fairly sobering experience for any Leeds fan, and tends to cure even those glass-half-full types of any excessive post-victory euphoria. The evidence of your eyes is that Leeds United were under considerable pressure for much of the evening; this continued to be the case even after Fulham defender Kostas Stafylidis‘ two mad moments which saw him dismissed for back-to-back yellow cards. There were too many times when Leeds were cut apart; too many occasions on which heroic custodian Silvestri had to fling himself into the breach. He had a very successful evening, our Marco – but it’s fair to say that you don’t ideally want to see your ‘keeper given quite so many chances to shine. Those statistics confirm for us what we could quite plainly see; Fulham’s creation of clear-cut opportunities was right up there and on another night might well have been reflected in a different result. A combination of poor finishing (a nervous and too-eager-to-succeed Matt Smith must hold his hand up here), excellent shot-stopping and the kindness of the woodwork saw Fulham fail to score, when they could easily have had half a dozen. That’s really no exaggeration.

After the match, United coach Neil Redfearn was understandably keen to highlight the fact that Leeds could have had half a dozen of their own. And it’s fair to say that it’s not Redders’ job to spread alarm and despondency among the troops. But equally it’s important that the weaknesses inherent in a performance that afforded the opposition so many chances, should be recognised and addressed. This is the big worry that the scoreline, excellent though it undoubtedly is, tends to conceal.

The fact of the matter is that, in the medium to long term – or perhaps as soon as the next game – we will get found out if these kind of statistics keep cropping up. Numbers can be interpreted or manipulated or crunched until the cows come home – but in their raw form, they still have their own undeniable message. Conceding a large majority of possession is a worry; it’s tiring to play and chase without the ball. Shots both on and off target against your own goal – that’s another worry. If you buy enough tickets, you’re going to win a raffle sooner or later; the woodwork and an inspired goalkeeper can only do so much. The numbers suggest that Leeds were cut open by an average Championship attack on far too many occasions. The conclusion has to be that Silvestri is insufficiently protected, and that can have only one outcome over time – we’ll be conceding too many again, and results will suffer accordingly.

This is not intended to be a whinge, or in any way to detract from yet another good result on the road. We should rejoice in that; the recent run has hauled us well clear of danger at the bottom and we now have the breathing space to think about next season – a significant luxury before we’ve even reached Easter. But the planning for a new campaign in August must surely address the concerns revealed by last night’s lop-sided possession and attempts on goal stats – otherwise, eventually, we’ll pay for soft-centred characteristics.

Perhaps the root of the problem is a lack of bite in midfield when Rudy Austin isn’t present. On the other side last night, Scott Parker gave an object lesson, even in defeat, of the difference an all-action, tigerish midfield presence can make. A lot of Fulham’s good stuff came through him, and – let’s not forget – there was plenty of good stuff from them last night. That we didn’t suffer by it was an eccentricity of the occasion, with so many chances fluffed, wasted or thwarted by Silvestri. But we can’t rely upon there being too many nights or days like that.

Fulham may yet fall through the trapdoor into League One, just a season after sinking out of the Premier League. If that were to happen then – once we had dried the tears of mirth from our eyes at the way Ross McCormack‘s dream had gone sour on him – we might well wish to look at the availability of Mr Parker who, on last night’s evidence, would be an asset to many a Championship team. I’m sure we could get him for a lot less than £11 million, just to pluck a figure out of thin air. Scott Parker was, more than anyone else in a Fulham shirt, rather unlucky to be on the losing side last night, and it’s clear as day to me that he would improve our midfield options.

Pie in the sky, of course – there are currently far too many variables, including the distinct possibility of yet another TOMA scenario this summer, to speculate on the direction of Leeds’ recruitment policy. That’s even assuming that we’re going to be out of embargo. But if there was even a chance of securing a Scott Parker type for the White shirt, then surely we’d reap massive benefit from that kind of all-action, committed presence. And, maybe then, we’d see a few of those damned statistics turning the way of our beloved Damned United.

All Change at Full Back for Leeds – Will We Finally Get Some Genuine Width? – by Rob Atkinson

Aidy White - Winging It in Left Back Berth

Aidy White – Winging It in Left Back Berth

Leeds United v Burnley (Elland Road) Saturday 21 September at 15:00

It seems certain that, in the absence of Steven Warnock through suspension and with Adam Drury still unavailable due to injury, Aidy White will finally get his long-awaited chance against Burnley to make an impression on this season – in the left-back slot where he has performed well enough to impress Brian McDermott in the U-21 side.  This comes a bare week or so after White seemed likely to depart on loan to Barnsley – but he made a laudable decision to stay and fight for his place.  On the other flank, it remains to be seen whether Lee Peltier, Tom Lees or maybe even Sam Byram will turn out at right-back.

A full back combination of White and Byram would offer pace and width to balance against an arguable lack of experience for an area of the team that normally requires an element of rugged know-how of the battle-hardened variety.  It’s probably unlikely that McDermott will opt to field both youngsters, but if he did then the team would at last have more potential for width going forward than it has offered all season, with the possibility of a wing-back approach as United seek to be more creative against the high-flying Lancastrians.

There is no doubt that Leeds need to carve out more in the way of chances if they are to make a real impact on this campaign.  Solid defence is all very well – only two conceded in the last three games.  But because we’ve scored only one in that time, a return of three points has seen the team drop away from the play-offs zone.  The options up front are likely to remain the same with Diouf, Poleon and Smith on the bench ready to enter the fray later on when the Burnley defence will have been – hopefully – softened up by the hard work of Noel Hunt and Luke Varney together with the elusiveness and skill of Ross McCormack.

It could be argued that United’s relative failure to create and convert chances owes as much to bad luck as it does to inadequate resources.  Sooner or later, Noel Hunt’s graft will pay off, Rudy Austin will bang one in from long range, Matt Smith  will adjust to a higher grade and be able to exploit his aerial power and ability.  A little width would help all this to come about, and attempts are surely going on behind the scenes to recruit people of enough quality in the loan market; the lack of any end product here up to now is – looking at it optimistically – a sign that some quality control is in operation and we’re not just going to sign anyone.  The exit on loan of Ryan Hall to Sheffield United would seem to set the bar a little above Hall’s own level where ability is concerned.

Burnley will present a stiff test, but Leeds will be looking to bounce back swiftly from a heart-breaking defeat on Wednesday night.  With home advantage, and an enforced change or two to freshen things up, expect United to emerge as narrow winners.