Cottagers Confidential: How worried are you about falling out of the top six? Who do you think the final top six will be and do you like your chances with that group in the playoffs?
Through It All Together: Not worried actually. I’m part of the optimistic Leeds United contingent, the one that thinks automatic promotion might still be on the cards if we play March well. Of the teams in the top ten, I think we’re clearly better than 4, so while the top six might shuffle a bit, I don’t think we’ll drop. I’d put the final six at Brighton, Newcastle, Leeds, Sheffield, Huddersfield, and… Fulham. Can’t see Reading holding you off, and if we do finish 3 and 6, we’ll have to do another one of these in May.
CC: Gary Monk wasn't thought of as a tactical genius when he was in charge at Swansea, and by the numbers Leeds don't look like they do anything great. Yet you've ridden a middle of the road offense and a above average defense into fourth place and the fourth best GD. How have you done it, and do you think it's sustainable long term?
TIAT: Not sure if this is a backhanded compliment or what… but yeah, I think it’s sustainable long term. Garry Monk has built a team that plays with “passion,” and while that might not be a quantifiable statistic, it has shown throughout the campaign. Pontus Jansson and Gaetano Berardi in particular play with a determination reminiscent of old Leeds United legends, pounding their chests and gesturing to the crowd at every opportunity. Jansson has been a revelation back there, partnered with Swansea loanee Kyle Bartley, and while his passion might get him in trouble sometimes, he’s been the anchor of the defense.
As for goal differential, that’s thanks to that solid defence. Right back Luke Ayling played with centre back Bartley in the Arsenal youth system, Bartley and Jansson are on the same page too, and Berardi has filled in well for an injured (and hopefully returning) Charlie Taylor, who’s a Premier League quality left back. Rob Green has been international-quality in the box after some early season errors, and while Chris Wood’s goals show for the positive side of that ledger, it’s the defence that gives us that top-six GD.
CC: What is Leeds biggest strength and biggest weakness this year?
TIAT: Ha, answered this one already I guess, at least in part. Our defence is our strength, and the centre back pairing of "Bartsson” in particular. Our biggest weakness has to be our midfield-forward combination play. Chris Wood leads the league in goals with 21, but our second highest goal scorer has 5. (If you want to end our campaign, injure Chris Wood.) Wood plays as the lone forward in a 4-2-3-1 formation, and when defences can isolate him from the 3 attacking midfielders, we’re hopeless on attack. It’s a big weakness, and it’s one that has lost us several games. Monk tried to fix that weakness by adding two attacking wingers in January in Modou Barrow and Villarreal’s Alfonso Pedraza, and he’s hoping a resurgent Pablo Hernandez will be key in the 10 role. When Hernandez has an off-night, goals are hard to come by. So far, Barrow’s quickness hasn’t been a big enough upgrade to help Wood, and Pedraza just scored his first on Friday night. We’ll see if they're enough to push us onto the Premier League over the next few weeks.
CC: Predicted scoreline and result?
TIAT: Predicted lineup then… Green, Ayling, Bartley, Jansson, Berardi, Bridcutt, O’Kane, Barrow, Hernandez, Pedraza, Wood.
Predicted score… 2-1, Leeds.