LEEDS UNITED (A) THE PREVIEW

14/12/17

A new boss, a new structure at board level and runs of great form, followed by fallow patches, Leeds United's season has mimicked our own in many ways. Andrew Lawn chats to Phil Hay from the Yorkshire Evening Post, for his take on Saturday's intriguing Championship encounter.

Andy - Leeds have appeared, from the outside at least, to be either very good or awful so far this season, not unlike Norwich. What have you made of the start and is Thomas Christiansen beginning now to get a settled side playing the way he wants, or is it still a work in progress?

Phil Hay - Very good and awful is relatively fair, although the overall picture isn't a depressing one.

Their start was excellent - seven games unbeaten, top of the Championship - but reality kicked in for a couple of months and both Christiansen and his players found out about the Championship in that period.
I wouldn't say Christiansen's shown himself to be a tactical genius as yet but I was impressed with the way he held it together while results were going awry and he's obviously got a pretty tight dressing room behind him. They'll feel like they're through the worst after three wins in five.

It's absolutely a work in progress here but then it was always supposed to be. Christiansen is new to the Championship and Leeds' transfer strategy in the summer had a medium-term feel to it.

We've seen that again in the deal to sign Yosuke Ideguchi (who will join in January but probably won't get a work permit until next season). The club would like to go up this season but they're not banking on it.

It all sounds very similar to what's going on at Carrow Road.

Was Cellino's departure the catalyst for the change? I noticed Andrea Radrizzani made a good first impression on taking over and seems to be re-discovering that sense of connection between club, fans and city. What's been the secret? Reacquiring Elland Road, results, or simply not being Massimo?

To a section of the crowd (a fairly large section in my view, although these things are difficult to quantify) not being Massimo was a good start. But there is plenty of faith in Radrizzani's project, as shown by the huge uptake of season tickets, and there does seem to be some vision behind it.

Being outright owner of the club has given him the freedom to do as he pleases without ruling by committee. His repurchase of Elland Road bought the stadium out of private ownership for the first time since it was sold 13 years ago. Other owners promised to do that but never came close to delivering.

The club and the council are pushing on with plans for a new up-to-date training ground in the city centre and aim to complete it by 2020. That's an ambitious target but achievable all the same. On top of that they've renovated the current training ground at Thorp Arch and Elland Road itself. Some of the changes amount to cosmetic improvements and cosmetic improvements don't equal promotion but it's hard to explain the extent to which the infrastructure here was left to rot and fester for many years. Prior to Radrizzani there was a chronic lack of foresight in that respect.

It helped too that Christiansen and his squad burned to the top of the Championship so quickly - the only downside being that the good start became a stick to beat the players with when the results turned for the worse.

In general, I'd say there's a willingness to be patient with the club's policy on transfers. If it doesn't deliver this season then in theory it should have a chance of doing so further down the line. But equally, by this time next year Radrizzani and the supporters will need to see that it's definitely working. You can't plan for the medium term indefinitely. Bear in mind that Leeds finished seventh last season and should have made the play-offs.

Again, the similarities with the new regime at Carrow Road are striking. While the plans were originally mooted under the old David McNally regime, since Stuart Webber has come in investment has focused on developing our Colney training facilities. Communication from the club has suggested that this is necessary when recruiting and it sounds like is an ongoing arms race across the Championship right now.

What have you made of City's new approach and subsequent stuttering start?

Appointing Daniel Farke felt like a risk, though not necessarily much more of a risk than Christiansen at Leeds.

I think what we're seeing is the after-effect of David Wagner pulling off promotion in one full season at Huddersfield - a spread of the idea that a concerted project with the right amount of planning and recruitment can pay off in the same way. Wagner was one of the coaches who Leeds were very interested in after Garry Monk resigned in May but Huddersfield going up meant that was never happening.

As for transfers, an arms race in the Championship is probably a good way of putting it. If money is no object then you can dominate the market but if funds are limited you have to find ways of recruiting players who other clubs could conceivably afford and whose inherent value is more than the fee you're being asked to pay. Leeds took Samuel Saiz for around lb3.5m from Huesca in July. He's considerably better than a lb3.5m player so in that instance the approach paid off. None of the 14 first-team signings United made during the summer (with the possible exception of Vurnon Anita, and even he was playing out of his preferred position at Newcastle) were established English-based footballers.

I look at Norwich's business and in amongst names like Husband and Hanley I see a fair number of punts. My assumption would be that so far it hasn't really clicked.

I think that's a fair assessment. The encouraging thing for me is that we now appear to have a plan. We know how we want to play and we know what players look like within that system and are recruiting accordingly, all while fitting in the old unbalanced squad Farke inherited.

Husband was very poor initially, but found his feet, but following an injury is struggling to shift another new boy in Marco Stiepermann at left back, even though he has been very hot and cold himself. Hanley however has been excellent from minute 1.

The problem comes in that fan expectations have increased and the looming end of parachute payments is being seen as apocalyptic, although in my opinion it could be a relief to no longer have the millstone of expectation the payment brings (fairly or otherwise).

You mention Saiz, he has looked an excellent signing in the games I've seen, is he the standout we should be looking out for Saturday? I was impressed by the signing of Lasogga from HSV who seems to have settled quickly?

Lasogga landed with two goals on his debut against Burton but he's missed the last five games with a calf injury and almost certainly won't start against Norwich. Kemar Roofe is in the box seat up front after his hat-trick against QPR last weekend; a very good hat-trick at that. Some fall on a plate but his at Loftus Road was down to some excellent movement and finishing, not to mention some very good service from the wings.

Yes, Saiz is a player to watch. He's everything you want in a number 10 and Wolves away is the only game where he's looked a cut below some of the opposition. But then everyone looks a cut below Wolves this season.

The point about 'projects' is that you have to let them play out. If Farke has his style and Norwich want it to evolve then they can't start judging him on three or four months. That's one of the reasons why Leeds were so strong in their support of Christiansen while Leeds were going through a run of seven defeats in nine. That form would earn plenty of managers the sack but they like his methods, they like what he's doing and ultimately the idea of patient progress was the board's when they appointed him. It hardly helps an owner's credibility if he abandons ship at the first sign of trouble - but at the same time, there are always limits to how bad results can get.

I can never decide if parachute payments are a good thing (for the clubs who earn them I mean. They're certainly not good for the clubs who don't). If you get your act together quickly, like Newcastle did last season, they can be a big advantage but I often think they keep clubs in the mindset of paying excessive wages to players who aren't necessarily worth it or paying wages which clubs in general have no business paying at Championship level.

At Norwich, the end of them might help to create a more balanced dressing room, which is something Leeds have. No-one here is on more than lb15,000 a week so there's very little disparity. But losing parachute payments usually calls for some serious cost-cutting too.

On parachute payments I agree, and I think that's where the switch to Webber/Farke is so important. The club appeared to recognise that we needed to do something completely different, so have given Farke a season with (limited) additional money to get started and then next season we will hopefully be competitive.

I read a point of view this week from journalist Rory Smith who said that he thinks it is becoming increasingly important to fans of clubs that their club has a "philosophy" because it reinvigorates an identity that is being lost as clubs become more indistinct corporate entities.

Moving on to Saturday, I think most City fans would gladly take a point and run right now, but, Like Leeds, we have been better away from home so it may not be the routine home win we're all dreading. I assume it's considered the kind of game Leeds must win if they are to challenge for promotion this season?

Maybe less so than QPR last Saturday or Burton on Boxing Day, as examples of clubs who are well out of form. Norwich were obviously scratching around for a win before last weekend but the result against Sheffield Wednesday was a good one and they carry far more threat than QPR in my opinion.

Leeds can be very decent at home but their better results there usually depend on them starting well. Christiansen's side have the capacity to pick teams off early on and by doing so it stops large home attendances (regularly 30,000+ this season) working for the opposition.

For Leeds, this period is less about the individual games than it is about the glut of six in which they're playing sides in the bottom half of the table. They've beaten teams of that ilk from the get-go and by the turn of the year they need to be very close to the top six, if not inside it, to have a strong chance of finishing there.

We will come to frustrate and look to hit you on the break. Expect 9 men behind the ball in a compact central low block and a plan which relies on Alex Pritchard, James Maddison or Nelson Oliveira conjuring a moment of brilliance.

Finally, a prediction? I think we could repeat what we did at Sheffield United and Middlesbrough, keeping it tight and nicking one, before killing the game dead in the kind of display you love when it's your team but hate when it's done to you. I am an optimist though.

It's funny because as much as Leeds feel the need to push the pace at home (it's their ground, it's their crowd so convention dictates), they're actually more suited to playing on the counter themselves.

The risk of sitting back here is that you concede early on and find impetus hard to muster and for that reason I can see Leeds winning by a couple of goals - one which takes advantage of initial dominance and another coming as Norwich open up a bit.

We'll be looking out for Oliveira on Saturday. Leeds made him look a million dollars at Elland Road last season. Although in that horrible first half, a mannequin in green and yellow would have looked a million dollars.

Oliveira can be both and is either excellent or, if frustrated and resorting to trying to score from 40 yards or beat 6 defenders on his own, more of a hindrance than a stationary mannequin would be.

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