Only a point separates Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United ahead of today’s derby, but the sides go into the game in different states of mind.
While Garry Monk’s Wednesday were playing poorly and winning on Tuesday, Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds were weaving beautiful patterns without being able to beat Preston North End.
Those in the away end were relieved when substitute Eddie Nketiah looped a late header to rescue a point for the West Yorkshire side at Deepdale, but for Bielsa it just added more fuel to a debate which refuses to go away.
The Argentinian is perplexed by his team’s form at the moment. As the midweek results only highlighted, consistency is nigh on impossible in English football’s second tier, yet Bielsa is satisfied that his team are producing a steady level of performances. Why results are not reflecting that is a mystery to him.
Former Leeds manager Monk, by contrast, appears to be finding his feet in the Steel City. Wednesday have only lost once under him in the Championship and while a player praising his manager’s organisational skills can always be taken with a pinch of salt, just four goals conceded in seven matches suggest Barry Bannan has a point.
The Argentinian is perplexed by his team’s form at the moment.Stuart Rayner
“It is probably not pleasing on the eye at the minute, but we are getting victories,” Bannan said after Tuesday’s 1-0 win over Stoke City.
Winning when not playing well is the sign of a good side. How Leeds supporters would love to be able to say that about their pleasing-on-the-eye side right now.
“We have now played 11 games of beautiful football but it’s not only the football that we need to play,” said Gjanni Alioski as the dust settled in Preston. “On the end is to score and we keep working on this and I hope the goals will come in the next games.”
The easiest way to snatch undeserved points is with a lethal goalscorer. For all the qualities Bielsa sees in him, Patrick Bamford does not fall into that category. With every game he fails to score, his confidence in front of goal will only wane further.
The centre-forward has not found the net in eight matches, which is why the manager’s assertion that he will be starting at Hillsborough so infuriated those supporters who are growing frustrated with their team’s lack of cutting edge.
Bielsa’s argument is that Nketiah, on loan from Arsenal to develop his game, is not as adept at creating chances as his rival to lead the line. He says he has not had chance to discover in training if the pair can play together as a pair. Given that he sees both on a daily basis at Thorp Arch, and given his pedigree within the game, it is hard to say for sure that the vastly-experienced manager is making the wrong call.
Goals, though, are the currency of football. Nketiah has scored five for Leeds this season (Bamford has four), plus a hat-trick in his last outing for England Under-21s. He has scored goals from the start in the League Cup and off the bench in the Championship. Bamford bringing others into play is only useful for as long as they are chipping in with goals themselves. Outside of the forwards, the Whites’ top-scorers in this season’s Championship are Alioski and the injured Pablo Hernandez, with two each.
Bamford scored all his goals in August and if his luck could turn, it could be the start of a run. But how long can Bielsa wait?
Monk knows better than most how impatient Leeds have become for a return to the Premier League. He was left the club in the summer of 2017 after missing out on the play-offs by one place and five points, and is yet to reinforce the good early impression he made in management with Swansea City. A televised Yorkshire derby would be the perfect time to make his point, and leapfrog his old club into the all-important top two. He knows full well the pressure that comes with wearing the famous white shirt – he claimed expectations left his Leeds team “scared” to play at Elland Road – and will be looking for his new charges to ramp it up. As if it needed any more, this is Leeds’ centenary season.
If the game is still in the balance in the latter stages, the Owls are more likely to believe they can win it, but Leeds are only a Bamford goal from making their football count. As so often in games between these two historic clubs, there is everything to play for.
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