A week is a long time in the Championship and anyone affiliated with Leeds United will vouch for that after another topsy-turvy run of games in the hunt for automatic promotion.
The Whites entered last weekend looking to put to rest a woeful run of form that had seen Fulham and the rest of the chasing pack close the gap to them since the festive period. The pressure was on Marcelo Bielsa’s side when they made the trip to the City Ground to get a much-needed result.
However, the home side came up with a 2-0 win and mounted serious pressure on Leeds as the fixtures didn’t get any easier. Up next was a trip to Griffin Park to face a Brentford side that were top of the form table as they hosted Leeds.
A return to the side for Kalvin Phillips instantly boosted their prospects as they looked far more balances both in and out of possession with players now reverting to their more natural positions, as Ben White dropped to centre-back and Stuart Dallas moved to left-back.
The honours ended even against the Bees as goalkeeping blunders took centre-stage, with Kiko Casilla handing the hosts an opening goal when he let the ball roll under his foot into the path of Said Benrahma. Liam Cooper equalised following David Raya’s failure to deal with a corner and in truth, Leeds deserved more from the game as they pushed for a winner.
A point was a solid platform to build on for the weekend just gone as Leeds welcomed Bristol City to Elland Road. The performance was just as strong and well-worthy of a 1-0 win, where once again, Leeds could have and should have scored more goals.
As they now sit three points clear of third place, we take a look at four talking points from a hectic week of football for Leeds…
Time for Illan Meslier?
The opening goal against Forest saw Sammy Ameobi fire down Kiko Casilla’s near post when the home side had barely any chances up to that point, raising further questions over whether he is the right man to start in goal for the Whites.
Marcelo Bielsa has since kept faith in him, but this wasn’t justified after his woeful mishap against Brentford. During that bad run, Leeds were poor at both ends of the pitch and it was clear that they were at a massive disadvantage as they couldn’t convert chances and couldn’t prevent cheap goals going in.
His performance was much more settled against Bristol City but it has to be said that he wasn’t tested at all and his only role was to keep the ball rolling for Leeds in possession.
A ban from the FA is looming for Casilla and it looks like it’s time for Illan Meslier to come into the side and make that place his own in the promotion run-in.
Meslier has only made one first-team appearance coming in the FA Cup clash against Arsenal where he was hugely impressive in possession of the ball and with his shot-stopping. It saw calls grow for him to start over Casilla as his troubles worsened, but he has had to be patient.
A ban for Casilla probably comes at the best time possible for all parties as it gives Meslier the chance that he deserves and Casilla’s form would have warranted him coming out of the team anyway.
Kalvin Phillips is vital
The stark difference between the performances at Nottingham Forest and then Brentford and Bristol City was down to one man returning to the lineup: Kalvin Phillips.
The overall shape of the side was greatly improved at Griffin Park and it was solely down to Phillips’ reintroduction to the lineup. When he came back into holding midfield, there was an air of square pegs going back into square holes as Ben White dropped back into his more familiar centre-back role and Stuart Dallas moving to left-back in place of Gjanni Alioski.
With those players also playing where they play best, Leeds looked more solid at the back when other teams broke and could win possession in much better positions, playing out with confidence and vigour that hadn’t been seen since mid-December.
Phillips’ performance against the Robins at the weekend further emphasised why he is rated so highly and why there are growing calls from pundits to see him in Gareth Southgate’s England squad this summer.
Faith needs to stay with Bamford
While even the most optimistic of Leeds fans will be speaking through gritted teeth when they say that Bielsa needs to keep faith in Patrick Bamford, there is a good reason for it.
He hasn’t scored since the victory over Millwall in late January and his last goal before that was against Fulham on the 21st December, and multiple chances have been and gone for him in that time.
Jean-Kevin Augustin arrived on-loan from RB Leipzig and it’s clear to see that he needs to get his match fitness up to Bielsa’s standards after a lack of game-time at Monaco.
Being thrust into the action hasn’t done Augustin any favours yet as he struggles to make the intricate runs that Bamford does and get into the game as smoothly as the current number nine.
It will obviously take time for Augustin and he is very much a player that should start in the future, but Bamford’s work against Brentford was great and should see him keep his place.
Can you name these Leeds players based on their previous clubs?
This week could be massive
With four points from three games against promotion rivals, it might seem on face value that Leeds have missed an opportunity to kick on and create a big gap between themselves and the chasing pack.
However, results massively went in Leeds’ favour during the week as they drew to Brentford, with Fulham also drawing and Forest losing in midweek. While at the weekend, Leeds were the only side in the current top seven that took maximum points as Fulham, Preston North End and (obviously) Bristol lost, then Brentford, Forest and West Brom all drew.
This has given Leeds a huge boost in their push for automatic promotion as they move three points clear of third after surrendering their 11-point gap in recent months.
The opponents that Leeds have now got to face plays further into their hands too as they only have three teams left in the top half out of 13 games, while Fulham have to play all of the top seven and no one else in that group has less than three of them to play. Leeds only face Fulham from now until May.
It’s back more firmly in Leeds’ hands with a decent cushion and favourable games, which should hugely boost their spirits.