Leeds United have accelerated out of the blocks as the early pacesetters, is a return to the Premier League attainable?
Leeds United a football club renounced around the world as being a fallen giant of English football. Gross mismanagement and financial implosion under ex-chairman Peter Risdale, among others, have seen Leeds languishing in the football league.
Thankfully, the financial woes have seemingly vanished and following a chaotic period under Italian Massimo Cellino, The Whites are hoping new owner Andrea Radrizzani will provide a much healthier and less traumatic relationship.
Devastation was the overriding feeling as Garry Monk and his backroom team divorced from Elland Room to reside in the North East, where they would find an altogether different proposition in the shape of newly relegated Middleborough.
Monk’s successor would be sourced as an unknown entity arriving from the remote island of Cyprus. Thomas Christensen, an ex-Barcelona player, was the man tasked with the invariably difficult job of maintaining the upward curve developed by his precursor.
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Christensen arrived in South Yorkshire off the back of a Cypriot league title, losing only two games during the season and having the best defensive record with 27 clean sheets. He also reached the domestic cup final with APOEL and they reached the last 16 of the Europa League, smashing club records in the process.
But despite this seemingly rosy and prosperous reign in Cyprus, Christensen’s success hadn’t reached the shores of Britain prior to his appointment at Elland Road. Was he the manager who could tame the beast?
Skeptics questioned Christensen’s experience, but before Monk’s appointment, it should be noted that he lacked any Championship experience also.
Could the new man install a winning style onto Leeds United and could he lead them to the promise land after a thirteen-year absence from the top flight?Christensen has provided practical to back up his theories, with Leeds sitting at the summit of the division playing with a free-flowing, possession based style following an influx of new recruits.
Impressively, Christensen has done this without ‘star man’ Chris Wood. Last season’s Championship top scorer got his multimillion-pound move to Burnley. United are hoping loanee Pierre-Michel Lasogga provides the goals needed to maintain this early domination.
Furthermore, Leeds have recruited from a quota of countries and discovered players such as Ezgjan Alioski and Samuel Saiz to name but two, these additions have, arguably, been the strongest in the division and the early table supports this.
Many predicated these new additions to have a period of adaptation and the team perhaps not getting out of the blocks as quickly as they have. Christensen has, not only built a side that fits his philosophy but who can implement it consistently. With technical quality and a robust defensive core, this Leeds side certainly has the continuity and cohesiveness to be a success.
In regards to philosophy, Christensen has deployed a 4-2-3-1 formation which has been both defensively sound and offensively ruthless.
Defensively, the shaping is something fundamental to any team who want to win games in the rough and tumble of this division and Christensen has implemented this almost immediately. When the ball is with the opponent in Leeds half, they make themselves compact with the full backs tucking in to create a flat back four.
The two midfielders mirror the centre backs, to cut off supply to the attacker’s feet to allow him to influence and affect the game. The midfield of Eunan O’Kane and youngster Kalvin Phillips have deserved the rave reviews being handed to them, they’ve been a key cog to the defensive shape.
On the offensive, despite a possession-based focus, Christensen allows Leeds to mix and match their style, with a high number of more direct passes being used. Leeds have peppered opponents goal with shots and this has had devastating consequences on the opponents, with Leeds raking up a total of fourteen goals in eight games.
These impressing offensive elements are matched with a defensive solidarity which Christensen deserves immense credit for, with hours of graft seemingly wearing off for the Spaniard’s men.
But Leeds get promotion in spite of a tough afternoon at the Den?
The components are present, good additions, a playing style which has translated onto British shores excellently and a manager who seems at home at Elland Road. If Leeds can maintain this early season form, they will get promoted this season.
They have already mustered a fifth of the points tally achieved under Monk last campaign. From the Kop to the fan sites, Leeds United are beginning to dream again, but this is a marathon, not a sprint, and we’ll probably have a clearer picture of where Leeds will finish in the near future.