Tag Archives: Thomas Christiansen

One Squad Addition Leeds United Simply MUST Make in January – by Rob Atkinson

Smith 17

The much-missed Number 17

It’s been, by common consent, a fantastic summer transfer window for Leeds United, with bundles of quality signed to make the club a real force in the Championship this season. The proof of the pudding is, as they rightly say, in the eating – and the fact that many of the players signed since last season were not exactly household names pales into insignificance at the side of their stellar performances over the new campaign so far. Unknowns or not, the new lads have delivered, and United sit proudly atop The Championship. ‘Nuff said.

It might seem a little premature, then, to be looking ahead to the January window and, truth be told, it’s difficult right now to see where the squad could usefully be strengthened. However, circumstances alter cases, and there’s a lot of football to be played before the new year rolls around. It’s tolerably certain that some squad tweaks will be necessary, and this blogger is more than happy to leave such matters to Messrs. Orta and Christiansen, under the benignly watchful eye of club owner Andrea Radrizzani.

The only suggestion I would make – and I make it in the strongest possible terms – is that we must have a squad number 17. It’s absolutely necessary, in order to eradicate the last traces of Massimo Cellino from this great club, and move on into a bright future free of the Corn King’s grubby baggage. Cellino saw to it that Leeds United “retired” the number 17 three years ago, due to his silly superstition about that inoffensive number. I’m not particularly bothered about who wears number 17, but it’s imperative that the shirt be brought out of retirement and back into currency. Only then can we consider ourselves to be well and truly embarked upon the post-Cellino era.

So let’s get it done – it’d be great if somebody of true quality could be signed to fill the newly reinstated 17 shirt – perhaps a big surprise from Asia? But, whoever the new man might be, let him wear 17 with pride – and perhaps then (just to annoy Cellino and his fans a little more) hit a purple patch that will see Leeds United win this league and finally return to the top, where we all know that we belong.

-o0o-

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Leeds Vibrant Attacking Brand Outshining Most of Premier League   –   by Rob Atkinson


One thing we often hear presented as fact, when it’s actually merely one of those little pieces of fiction so beloved of corporate marketing types, is the alleged “gulf in class” between the Championship league and the more glittery and relentlessly hyped English Premier League. As with most of these glib generalisations, there’s an element of truth in there but – as is so often the case – it just ain’t as simple as that. 

In reality, the top teams in the Championship in any given season will give the bulk of the Premiership a good game and a run for their money a fair chunk of the time. The real gulf in class is between the Premier League élite – an exclusive band of five or six major, moneyed giants of the game – and the rest of the top flight who simply can’t hold a candle to the brilliance of the billionaires. Between these Premier League also-rans and the major contenders at the top end of the Championship, the margins are far finer. 

This weekend just gone has been a case in point. After witnessing Leeds United’s virtuoso 5-0 demolition of Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion, I then sat through two televised Premier League games on Sunday, of quite mind-numbing boredom and ineptitude, where the standard of play was palpably inferior to the fare served up by Thomas Christiansen’s troops on Saturday. First Burnley edged out Crystal Palace through a Chris Wood gift goal, then Newcastle shaded a turgid contest at Swansea. Currently, I’m watching West Ham struggle against newly-promoted Huddersfield, in a game of barely better quality than the first two. It wasn’t a Super Sunday in the EPL, and so far it’s not exactly a Magic Monday either. Despite the propaganda of the EPL, this is anything but unusual. 

Of course, most fans will already be aware that talk of uniform excellence in the top flight is merely wishful thinking with a view to selling The Brand. A glance at the EPL odds on any given weekend will show that those in the know expect the Newcastles and Huddersfields of the Premier League to be soundly sorted out anytime they play one of the real big boys, or even some of the secondary pack such as Southampton or Everton. The Premier League is really two mismatched leagues in one, and it can be carnage when excellence meets mediocrity. The same is not true when Championship contenders play top flight strugglers. 

The essential truth that has emerged from the opening part of the season is that this year’s emerging Championship aristocrats, our own Leeds United, have produced football to surpass anything Sky has shown live these past few days. I looked at the two Sunday games in the warm afterglow of that scintillating Elland Road display, and I knew – I just knew – that United could have seen off any of those four teams. The same applies to tonight’s combatants, on the evidence of the first half. 

And it’s not only this season, either. The overblown myth of Premier League superiority has been pierced and deflated on a few occasions in LS11 these past few years, by United sides with much less swagger than the current squad. Spurs, Gareth Bale and all, fell at Leeds in the FA Cup, the same season Everton were beaten in the League Cup. Lesser manifestations of Leeds than our heroes of Saturday have faced nominally higher-grade opposition, and have generally done OK. Other Championship clubs can report similar successes. It doesn’t fit in with the Premier League “we are da BEST” narrative, but it’s a fact nonetheless.

The proof of the pudding, of course, is in the eating – and my contention will be put to the test at Burnley in the Carabao Cup shortly. But I honestly expect us to give a good account of ourselves, due to my conviction that Leeds United’s football this term has been a cut above much of what we’ve seen from the middle and lower echelons of the so-called “élite”. 

We shall see. But, whenever you can bear to tear your eyes away from the spectacular style and verve of Leeds United’s current performance levels, take a look at some of the Premier League dross being shown live by satellite. I’m pretty sure any objective judge, as well as we blinkered Whites fanatics, would concede that I’ve got a point. 

                                       -o0o-

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Leeds’ Radrizzani Revolution Summed Up in One Magical Afternoon – by Rob Atkinson

Lasogga

Lasogga – Viduka Mk. II?

We’ve heard the phrase “dare to dream” often enough around Elland Road these past few years or so. Perhaps too often – because, when we did dare, the promised dreams usually turned to grisly nightmares. But this morning, thousands of Leeds United fans will have woken up pinching themselves to make sure that yesterday’s picture-perfect display of attacking football, defensive solidity and, oh, just everything you could possibly want, was not, after all, just some figment of an over-active imagination. For the vast majority packing out the stadium, though, the dream was real alright. It was the dedicated band of Burton Albion fans with the nightmares, as their team was hopelessly outplayed, outgunned, out-thought and outclassed in what was a virtuoso performance by United. It was men against boys from minute one, and the best part has to be that, although a dominant display like this had been coming, there is surely much more to anticipate and expect from Leeds this season.

There’s no point in downplaying this performance because it was “only Burton”. Albion are a fellow Championship side who were coming off the back of a three match unbeaten run, yet Leeds made them look several leagues inferior. The gulf between the two sides was, as BBC commentator Barry Davies once said on the occasion of another famous Leeds thrashing of hapless opponents, “an almighty chasm”. One look at the face of Burton manager Nigel Clough afterwards was enough to realise that he was only too well aware of the magnitude of the thrashing handed out to his team. I had been polishing a question along the lines of “Nigel, you said in the run-up to this game that you’d spotted Leeds’ weak spot. Can you reveal it to us now?” The pain on the face of the pro persuaded me to hold my tongue.

Leeds won at the easiest of canters, managing to introduce a new striker in the burly form of Pierre-Michel Lasogga in a manner that might have had you thinking he’d been in the team for months. There is much to look forward to from Lasogga. A few people have commented on his resemblance to Mark Viduka, and he really could be that good. Early in the game, the Viduka comparison looked spot on, as he received the ball on the right of the box, turned smartly and then pirouetted back to supply Kemar Roofe with a chance that the Burton keeper (who actually had a good game) saved well. That pirouette was very reminiscent of the Duke’s hat-trick goal in that memorable 4-3 defeat of Liverpool just over 17 years ago. It showed that, just maybe, Lasogga might be looking to fill far more illustrious boots than those vacated by Chris Wood.

There were so many other highlights, too. The sight of Roofe at last scoring the kind of goal he was serving up routinely in his Oxford days a couple of years back. Another fine, left-footed finish from young Kal Phillips, who just keeps getting better and better. And the brilliance of Samu Sáiz, as he cleverly prompted Leeds’ attacking moves, one forward pass to Roofe in particular being the sort of thing you’d normally expect to see in la Liga, never mind the Championship. That Giles-esque, chipped pass set up Roofe on the byline to cross for Lasogga’s second, a well-placed header to complete the scoring after about an hour. Enough was as good as a feast, Lasogga came off to a noisy standing ovation, and Leeds strolled through the rest of an afternoon where you suspect they could have had ten if they’d really wanted to.

And all of this, of course, without arguably the season’s star up to this point, Ezgjan Alioski, who was benched for this game after his international exertions with Macedonia in midweek. Gaetano Berardi was missing still, as was Matthew Pennington, and Leeds felt able to replace Vurnon Anita with Stuart Dallas at the interval as well as giving the young colossus Jay-Roy Grot some minutes later on. None of this disrupted the progress of the Leeds juggernaut and poor Burton were simply steamrollered flat as a pancake.

It was the kind of performance to ring the changes between epochs, a signal demonstration that what had been is no more; here was a new era and it’s one to get excited about. Four areas of the club are radically altered from what many see as a reasonably successful season last time around. The owner is now the sole owner, and has been going about things very much his own way; everything Andrea Radrizzani touches seems currently to turn to gold. And it’s his birthday today. Many happy returns, sir.

The other three areas are recruitment, coaching and the team. Victor Orta has demonstrated his unerring eye for a player, pulling off some remarkable coups in the transfer window lately completed. The Wood exit has summed up Orta’s success; the income from that deal has virtually financed all of the incomings, including the loan deal that has provided us, in Lasogga, with a striker who looks better and who provides more options than the effective but one-dimensional Wood. And the coaching of Thomas Christiansen has been a revelation; the likes of Roofe and Liam Cooper have grown under his tutelage, almost overnight, into the players they clearly had it in them to be. The team looks solid at the back, creative in midfield and fluidly lethal up front. Many are still trying to assess the ability of new keeper Felix Wiedwald, or even properly to learn his name. He’s had that little to do so far, beyond linking up well with the back line to distribute the ball across the defensive third.

These are heady times to be a Leeds supporter; it’s difficult for many of us to keep our feet on the ground after so long in the doldrums. The first defeat will be the big test for the support; you suspect that, as far as the squad is concerned, Christiansen has plans and a message for that contingency. On the evidence of yesterday in particular, and the season so far in general, that first setback may (fingers crossed) be some way off. In the meantime, supporting United currently feels so good that you wonder if it’s not somehow bad for your health. But these are good feelings, and we deserve them – they’ve been a long time coming, after all.

Whatever the long and short term future may have in store for us all, there’s one thing that’s quite certain: this demolition of Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion, with the scoring debut of Lasogga as the icing on the cake, will live long in the memory. It truly was the stuff of dreams – and it really happened, just as we recall it. So we can stop pinching ourselves right now, and settle in for what looks like being a season to savour.

-o0o-

While you’re here – a gentle and polite reminder. Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything depends on your donations to keep going. Please click HERE to donate what you can – even a quid or two makes a big difference. This blog will never hide behind a paywall, so it relies on your generosity for its continued existence. Thank you – MOT. 

Garry Who? Chris Who?? TC’s Divine New Leeds Chopped the Forest Down – by Rob Atkinson

Divine duo

Christiansen and Radrizzani: Divine Duo

As we head into the season’s first international break, with its timely chance to pause and reflect, we can look back upon a first segment of Leeds United‘s campaign that can best be described as the stuff of which dreams are made. The Elland Road exits of Garry Monk and Chris Wood had the press pack, or at any rate that 99% of it hostile to the Whites, drooling with anticipation of United’s fall from grace. Gleefully, they speculated upon the damage that will be done by the loss of thirty-goal Wood; happily, they salivated at the jumping overboard of Garry Monk – who would actually appear to have swapped a cruise liner for a rusty tug. The reality of Leeds’ refreshing approach so far has confounded these ill-wishing souls, and they’re frankly welcome to their own purgatory. Leeds fans, by contrast, are higher than kites on Cloud Nine.

Today’s performance at Nottingham Forest surpassed even last Saturday’s demolition of Sunderland. Both were clinical displays away from home at perceived football fortresses. Both saw United make light of the loss of their erstwhile big number nine; both ended up as solid victories via a memorable goal in each half. But the high-press at Forest was even more effective than United’s stifling of the Mackems seven days ago, with the fluency of midfield passing and the incisiveness of the multi-pronged and revolving attack both even more impressive than at the Stadium of Light. It’s fair to say that today’s win at the City Ground – normally absent from United’s happy hunting ground roster – was as complete and satisfying as any away performance over recent seasons.

Count the blessings: another clean sheet, that’s four on the trot in the league; a first goal from the dazzling Gianni Alioski (and what a goal it was); the continuing development of Kemar Roofe in a central striking role, his display embellished by a neat headed finish – and last, but by no means least, a late cameo of rich promise from new signing Jay-Roy Grot. On the evidence of his short time on the pitch, this massive unit of a young striker will have much to offer over the season ahead. He showed a neat turn, the potential to dominate in the air, pace to burn – and an endearing tendency to bully opposing defenders that belies his tender years. Grot has been described admiringly by the Leeds Twitteratti as a monster, a beast, an animal. In the context of the pantheon of Elland Road heroes, these are terms of high praise indeed.

So, for the second week running, United have breezily popped the bubble of a rival’s promising start to the season. We remain unbeaten, handily placed in the league, and with the enticing prospect of further possible recruitment during the last few days of the transfer window. To say there is currently a feel-good factor around LS11 is hopelessly inadequate; a masterpiece of understatement. It really is much better than that so far – but it’s important as a serious blogger for me not to get too carried away; there’s a long way to go, after all.

So I’ll confine myself to this brief summing up of the current situation at Leeds United, as follows: Andrea Radrizzani is God; Thomas Christiansen sits divinely at his right-hand side as the New Messiah (the clue’s in his name, brethren); the assembled first team squad are the Heavenly Host, the glorious anointed representatives at pitch level of this omnipotent duo – and we, the fans, are the newly-inspired believers, a teeming multitude of the faithful, looking forward with the serene confidence of ordained destiny to our unstoppable march to the Promised Land.

There. In all modesty and discretion, I think that’s fair comment.

 

Saiz Matters for Leeds as United Give Port Vale a Proper Seeing To – by Rob Atkinson

Saiz

Leeds United 4, Port Vale 1 (Carabao Cup 1st Round)

Elland Road on Wednesday night had that air of a football stadium being dragged at long last into the 21st century – not kicking and screaming, but purring with a deeply fulfilled sense of gratified satisfaction. The old stadium had that slick, modern look about it, with the state-of-the-art electronic advertising hoardings proclaiming that a new era is underway in LS11. But it was the vibrant, fluid attacking play of Leeds United, resplendent in their all-white strip with its gold trim, which really announced that things are different now – even though the team showed nine changes from that impressive opening day win at Bolton.

From the start, the Thomas Christiansen style of play was again in evidence, with the players looking to pass it around efficiently, finding space and supporting possession, and with a creditable amount of sheer hard work going into harrying the opposition when they had the ball. If Leeds can build on this approach, then we could be in for a highly enjoyable season. The work ethic and the obvious comfort on the ball of the Leeds players both bode well for United’s prospects, and the 15,000 plus crowd had many a chance to express their approval.

Samu Sáiz was the obvious star of the show, with a very well-taken hat-trick – and his immediate priority must now be to keep his feet on the ground, continue to work hard, and maintain the standard he has set for himself. The only small nits to pick were a slight tendency to wave imaginary yellow cards, together with a suggestion that he may have been involved in a spitting incident towards the end of the first half. But otherwise, the impression Sáiz made on his competitive debut could hardly have been greater; by scoring a hat-trick on his first team bow, he has potentially catapulted himself into the Carl Shutt class of United legends. Praise indeed.

Let’s not overlook other impressive performances though. After the distressing concession of a penalty at Bolton, when he appeared to be attempting to swap shirts with his opponent about half an hour early, Conor Shaughnessy looked classy and composed in the sometimes intimidating Elland Road arena. It seems important to make that point, as there is a tendency among United fans to dismiss young players as “not good enough” after errors like the one at Bolton. But Shaughnessy showed character and application, hardly putting a foot wrong all night. Decidedly, he looks to have every chance of being good enough.

Overall, it was an extremely satisfactory night for Leeds, with that buzz of new beginnings around a stadium that is looking better every day – emphasising that home is once again truly our home. At this early stage of the season, we already have a lot to be thankful for and, seemingly, plenty more to look forward to. Not to overplay a First Round League Cup win over fourth-tier Port Vale – but you can only beat what’s put in front of you, and the fact is that Leeds despatched their opponents with considerable style.

Quite apart from the Sáiz hat-trick, there was also a debut goal for Caleb Ekuban, who finished decisively after a step-over by that man Samu. By this time, the first half leveller scored by Vale’s ex-United man Tongeh was but a distant memory. Leeds had won at a canter, and they’d put on a better show than for many a long month past in so doing. The three terrific strikes from the right boot of Sáiz will be remembered for a long time to come – although Leeds fans, being Leeds fans, will be hungry for more.

On the sparkling evidence of Wednesday night, those fans are unlikely to be disappointed.

 

Are We Going to Suffer Yet Again From That Same Old Leeds United Delusion? – by Rob Atkinson

Orta

Victor Orta – managing fans’ expectations?

One chilling phrase among a few sobering lines emerged from new manager Thomas Christiansen‘s debut press conference at Leeds United. Sad to say, the same old signs of fan expectations being carefully managed were all there – new players “but within our budget” etc etc. The implication was that the budget will be far from a bottomless bucket, but we all know that anyway. Leeds United has not been a “speculate to accumulate” club for ages now, despite the bounteous riches that await us, if we can only get over that hill and reach the Premier League Promised Land. So the promise of parsimony and caution isn’t exactly news to us fans. All that remains to be seen is the extent of the handicap we’ll be carrying, as compared to more ambitious and realistic clubs.

The really scary part, though, is what appears to this blog a sign of an almost deluded Elland Road view of the modern player’s priorities. I think it’s fair to say that we’re all aware of your average pro footballer’s top three most important things: in no particular order, they are cash, dosh and money. That’s a given, and any proletarian whinging will be met with a sharp volley of “it’s a short career”, “I’ve a family to look after” and so forth. The thing is, we’re under no illusions. Johnny Footballer isn’t motivated by love of club – he just wants to know what the bottom line is, and precisely how many high-performance motor vehicles that will put in his deluxe double garage with electronic drop-down doors.

So it’s acutely distressing to hear yet again the same old crap we’ve been fed before. This time, it’s from the persuasive mouth of Victor Orta – but it’s been said many a time and oft by various predecessors charged with explaining to the fans why we won’t be signing the kind of players Sheffield Wednesday, Middlesbrough and even Wolves will be aiming for. The dreaded phrase is “My task is to find players who want to be here, and not for money”.

Now, I could help Victor here. I could name any number of players like that, starting with my good self. I’d play for Leeds United for the inestimable honour of wearing that white shirt (XXL, please), and I wouldn’t presume to ask a penny piece. As far as that goes, I’m the Whites’ ideal recruit. The trouble is though, I’m crap at football, and I always was – even in my prime thirty years ago. But just to let you know, Victor – if you want cheap and starry-eyed, then I’m your man. And there’d be no shortage of players, with the name of Leeds United carved upon their hearts, equally eager as myself, but sadly equally crap. I guess you can’t have it all.

And therein lies the problem. Other clubs in the Championship have sussed out the truth in that ancient maxim: pay peanuts, get monkeys. Leeds United, undoubtedly the biggest club in the second tier, have consistently failed to live up to that historical billing. They seem to feel – and this is quite explicit in the hackneyed phrase trotted out by Orta – that players will be clambering over themselves to enter the hallowed portals of Elland Road, without caring a rotten fig for the amount of remuneration available. They seem to believe that players think like besotted fans. But – and this is dead obvious but really, really important – they don’t.

Professional players have dedicated their lives to getting to that point where a club like Leeds United might be interested in them. They know their worth, and if they don’t, there’s some oily git of an agent all too ready to tell them, for a mere 15%. They’re clued-up, eager to realise their financial potential and utterly unsentimental. They will, of course, trot out the usual fan-pleasing platitudes once they’ve signed for somebody (As soon as I heard Leeds/Forest/Newcastle/Chesterfield* were interested, there was no other place for me) – but we all know that’s just professional blarney. It’s expected – nobody takes it seriously. It’s all about how much wedge they stand to earn.  *delete as applicable

One of two things is going on here. Either Leeds United, in the shape of their newly-hired management team, really do believe this guff about “players wanting to be here” – in which case, you worry for their knowledge and professional ability – or they’re spinning a line. And, in that latter case, we just have to hope that it’s the rest of the game they’re trying to spin a line to – and not us, the poor, long-suffering fans. If the club is trying to hide the true extent of their transfer pot from other clubs, in order to avoid prices being inflated, then they’re not being too subtle about it. And yet we might approve of such a strategy, if it gets us decent players for prices that aren’t too daft.

But if it’s us fans the club are trying – for the umpteenth time – to delude with tales of players unable to resist the honour of representing Leeds, despite being paid rather less than they might get down the road at some more cynical and sordid club where the belief is that you get what you pay for – then, frankly, it’s bloody insulting. But I just have this nasty feeling that might well be the case.

Only time will tell, and until these dark suspicions are proved correct, the new Leeds regime will have my cautious and conditional support. The proof of the pudding, as they say, will be in the eating – so we’ll just have to hope that the club’s movers and shakers are ready to sink their teeth into the transfer market, and give us a team to be proud of. Otherwise, I’m afraid to say, it’s difficult to see anything but a long struggle of a season ahead, with some or other degree of disappointment at the end of it.

As ever in this gloomy mood, I do hope that I’m wrong.