Bristol City v Leeds: sticky period for the Whites

Christiansen’s men out of form –

This is Leeds United’s toughest period since Thomas Christiansen took charge. They have just lost four of their last five league games, the last against Reading, who began the weekend in the relegation zone.

Central midfielders Kalvin Phillips and Eunan O’Kane have qualities, but they are not the most comfortable with the physical side of the game. Christiansen might be tempted to introduce Ronaldo Vieira, a more competitive, all-action midfielder capable of winning initial battles that will give more attacking players the platform to shine.

Another decision for the management team is who to pick in wide areas. Pablo Hernandez has started all but one of their league games, often on the left, where he sometimes lacks the work rate to track back and can be too keen to drift infield rather than hold the width. Stuart Dallas is the only left-footed wide man but he has only started once this season, preferred as a regular substitute.

Whoever plays in midfield against Bristol City will need to compete with more bravery than we have seen previously. Not only do the Robins play with flair, as we saw at the beginning and end of last season, they have also allied that with grit. They press with more intelligence this term and are quicker to second balls.

Deep-lying playmaker Marlon Pack, who was a big miss in last Friday’s 0-0 draw with Burton, circulates play very well and allows them to sustain a high-tempo. With the team seeing so much of the ball in the final third, it is little surprise that the goals are flowing. Attacking midfielder Bobby Reid is the Championship’s joint-top scorer with seven goals and wide forward Jamie Paterson is the joint-top assister with five.

Three of Paterson’s five assists have been for Famara Diedhou, who has scored five in his last seven appearances in all competitions. It could be difficult for the Leeds defence to handle the Senegalese striker’s pace and power, especially Pontus Jansson.

The Swede was colossal last term but, while he’s become a better passer since the change of management, he has perhaps lost the bite he showed under Garry Monk. Similar criticisms could be applied to ex-Robin Luke Ayling, who has at times been caught too far up the pitch, as we saw for Reading’s late winner.

As a centre-back by trade, Ayling is most comfortable when given a simplistic role in which he stays disciplined, mops up loose balls and plays the obvious pass. When Leeds have a more direct right winger, perhaps Hadi Sacko, he is able to do that, but when Kemar Roofe plays ahead of him there is more responsibility on Ayling to get into areas that don’t quite suit him.

If that problem persists, there could be gaps to exploit for the rampaging Joe Bryan, who has made more successful dribbles (16), tackles (40) and long passes (39) than any other left-back in the Championship (WhoScored).

Bryan’s consistent passion, energy and ability has been key to his boyhood club’s strong start: they might just be playing Leeds at the right time.

The Football Lab’s Verdict: 2-1