Leeds United v Hull City: the importance of unpredictability

Christiansen vindicated by recent form? – yorkshireeveningpost.co.uk

As if to wholly restore the mood of trust and positivity around Elland Road, Leeds United completed back-to-back wins last week for the first time since September.

It has been an intriguing period in West Yorkshire from a neutral perspective. The current chairman, Andrea Radrizzani, appears to have a stronger long-term vision for the club than certain other Italian businessmen have had. On the other hand, there is always a limit to how bad results can get before short-term issues become the central focus.

The fact Leeds suffered as bad a run of results as they did between September and November – yet head coach Thomas Christiansen has lived to tell the tail – says a lot about the core strength at the club.

Their performance in the 1-0 win over Norwich wasn’t exactly a vintage one – Felix Wieldwald had to make a few decent saves to preserve the clean sheet – but they showed the battling qualities that were perhaps missing during their challenging spell.

Pontus Jansson scored the winner and he is starting to form a sturdy centre-back pairing with Liam Cooper, who is playing arguably the best football of his career. The duo should dominate again, especially if Hull play 92 long balls, as they did at Cardiff last time out.

Striker Nouha Dicko is not the best in the air and perhaps doesn’t have the pace and power we saw from him a few years ago. Chasing hopeful forward punts might have been one of his strong suits at Rotherham and Wolves prior to injury, but it certainly isn’t among them right now.

Kamil Grosicki is looking a shadow of the player that lit up the Championship in August and Jarrod Bowen has been affected by an ankle injury. In fact, new manager Nigel Adkins revealed that as many as 17 players are struggling with injury, hardly the ideal climate for a honeymoon period.

One of them is Fraizer Campbell, who will miss the festive fixtures and was a big miss in the 1-0 defeat at Cardiff last time out. Hull have scored 27 goals in 14 games when Campbell has started and 10 in eight when he hasn’t, indicating a 35% improvement in their attacking performance.

They at least defended reasonably well in the Welsh capital and the performance of Michael Dawson, who hadn’t necessarily been at his best under Leonid Slutsky, is a positive to glean.

However, Dawson and Ondrej Mazuch will face a more diverse threat in Leeds than they faced at Cardiff and it won’t just be a case of heading high balls away. Kemar Roofe showed at QPR that he is capable of scoring classic centre-forward’s goals, but he’s not always the man in the opposing penalty area: sometimes he’ll arrive from deep, or drift into a wide area to allow Ronaldo Viera, Samuel Saiz or one of the wide men to break into the box.

That unpredictability is part of what makes it so difficult to play against the resurgent Leeds. From Dawson and Mazuch’s perspective, they may not know whether to give Roofe space, or whether to get close for him and risk paving the way for other players to get beyond him.

By contrast, Hull don’t appear to trust their attacking capabilities against the better teams and, especially without Campbell, the danger is that their play will become easy to read. On Saturday, it may become apparent that Leeds are not only more sensibly run off the field these days, they also have more strings to their bow on it.

The Football Lab’s Verdict: 3-0