The effect of a managerial change at a football club usually sets into event a chain of reaction and the most gargantuan of outcomes. An innumerable number of permutations and combinations are at play which decides the outcome of the success of a managerial change.
When Garry Monk shocked Leeds United fans at the end of last season by resigning from his job, it brought into the picture a certain Thomas Christiansen. Christiansen oversaw the journey of Apoel Nicosia of Cyprus to the last 16 of the Europa League and helped the club to the Cypriot first division title last season before taking over at Leeds United.
When Christian walked into the club, the board was hoping to see the positive effect of having a foreign manager, in a manner somewhat similar to what David Wagner or Marco Silva has had at Huddersfield and Hull City respectively.
Leeds United got off to a flying start to their new season. Fluid football that saw the attacking players get a license to roam about the opposition half and a defence that since the opening game at Bolton Wanderers had shipped in only three goals in eight games meant that the Whites could not have hoped for a better start. The Leeds United machine, however, began to show signs of crack as the league progressed and they now stand fifth in the table after two heavy, disappointing away defeats where their midfield was run ragged.
Doubts are clouding over the club and the atmosphere at Elland Road right now is grave. Several post-mortem reports of the club’s defeats have speculated about various aspects that the club needs to get right.
One such aspect I would like to focus on is the fact that the manager must be given time. This opinion does not come from a general consensus that every manager must be given time to prove their mettle. Christiansen has brought into the club a new culture and a new style of play. Such changes in play come with a chain of reactions. Initially, the other domestic clubs are at a loss to figure out the new style of play which on most occasions grants the new manager some much-needed confidence in his methods.
However, with the advancement in technology, it does not take long to decode a new style of play and opponent teams set up to counter the new game style. Moreover, the new style of play is like a fancy new car for the players. While they do enjoy the eccentricity of it, it is only after the first scratch that they begin to understand the mechanics of it and how to drive it for the long-term benefits. The players need to stay calm and treat the new style of play in a similar fashion.
The other factor which comes into notice is the 4-2-3-1 formation currently being employed. Unlike the 4-4-2 or that 4-3-3 which is widely used, the 4-2-3-1 is highly tactical and has very specific roles for individual players. While the 4-4-2 promotes a basic overall play and the 4-3-3 comes with great fluidity, the 4-2-3-1 requires players to understand and execute complex tactical orders.
Positioning for every player and especially the deep-lying midfield axis becomes of the utmost importance. The two players become the narrow link between attack and defence and must be at the top of their game for every second of the match. They alone control the tempo of the match for their team by either setting up the four men in front of them to attack freely and create a 4v4 for the opposition defence or by providing cover for their defence when their team is subjected to repeated waves of opposition attacks.
The problem with Leeds United is that their midfield position for these two men is far from settled. While Eunan O’Kane is playing through his cracked rib injury, Phillips has played a string of games too fast and might just be suffering from a little fatigue. The Whites must look to the bench to call upon a young Ronaldo Vieira, a slightly more physical albeit less creative midfielder in their ranks. Vieira’s freshness and physicality in the middle of the park will at least shore up the midfield that has lost control of the match at the centre of the park.
Despite losing great momentum in the title race, Leeds United should do anything but press the panic button. The club will do well to see it as a slight blimp in form due to injuries and fatigue and hopefully mount a title challenge once they fix the vital midfield cog in the Leeds machine.