Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Something To Talk About

I should know by now that Leeds United never play by the rules and mostly do the opposite to what I expect them to. In the last Peacock blog post I talked about allowing new manager Thomas Christiansen a little time to settle, I tried to temper expectations a little by pointing to Garry Monk’s first month in charge and suggesting the first few games aren’t always a reliable indicator of how a season is going to go. I pointed to the good things happening off the field in an attempt to direct a focus towards the bigger picture, and away from the short term struggles that ‘could’ happen with an inexperienced coach and a raft of new players. So what do Leeds United do to help me drive home that message?  Go seven games unbeaten from the start of the season; including four clean sheets, a procession of well-taken goals and a style of football not seen since Brazil’s carefree romp through the 1970 World Cup Finals in Mexico.

OK, so that last bit has a slight addition of artistic licence, but given some of the drab and soulless fare we have been served up over recent years, it is hard not to get excited about Leeds United’s eye-catching start to the season, and it is equally difficult to find rational comparisons to draw upon. 

When you see Samu Saiz pinging 50 yard passes straight to Stuart Dallas, Gianni Alioski reducing a left back to tears and Jay-Roy Grot delivering a defender to a different postcode with an innocent shoulder barge, it takes a special kind of crotchety sourpuss to deny Leeds fans a wry smile and a faint vision of a new beginning. But that’s all it is; a beginning, and while it is conjuring up a definite stirring in the loins, and God knows we have spent many a cold and lonely hour waiting for one of those, it is perhaps wise to remember that we have played just seven games, and while we didn’t want to get too downhearted if things started badly, equally, we shouldn’t be hanging out the bunting to celebrate our inevitable promotion, just because things have started well.

However, they definitely have started well. A 3-2 win at Bolton on the opening day was followed by two slightly deflating 0-0 draws at home, but then Leeds served up two absolute treats for their travelling fans and all those watching on TV, with almost identical 2-0 wins at Sunderland and Nottingham Forest. These weren’t just regulation wins either, both were achieved against big clubs with high expectations, and, particularly against Forest, Leeds dominated from start to finish and looked every inch the charismatic gunslingers that have so often waltzed into Elland Road in recent years and took home the prize.
The scenes in the Old Peacock when Alioski drove home the second goal at Forest were reminiscent of the Champions League days when Leeds toyed with the opposition. Leeds had looked comfortable and superior throughout, and a peach of a goal dressed the victory up perfectly. There was a tangible sense that ‘this’ Leeds United are the real deal, and finally, are people going to be talking about Leeds United again for the right reasons, and not as a joke club or a financial disaster story?

It is testament to the work of Thomas Christiansen of course, who has been supported very well in the transfer market, without spending the amounts of money that rivals such as Aston Villa, Wolves or Middlesbrough are spending, but still has to fit all these individuals into a team formation. One of the most pleasing aspects of the first few games is how we have coped with injuries and suspensions and how any individual slotting in has so easily adapted to the formation and team ethic. There is clearly a plan and everyone is buying into it, and only the head coach, who works with the players every day, can firstly achieve that and then instil it in every player in the squad.

Since those two scintillating away performances, of course, we have seen the end of the transfer window and yet more activity to add value to the belief that Leeds are getting the infrastructure of the club absolutely right. Few fans are lamenting the loss of 30-goal Chris Wood when you look at the proven attacking talent we now have at our disposal, and hats off to Director of Football Victor Orta for that. Looking at the squad we have two strong players for every position and you could conceivably field two separate 1-11 teams and have a very evenly-matched practice game. I honestly can’t remember the last time we could say that, if ever. The key is, of course, how you keep every member of that squad hungry and satisfied. Inevitably, a large chunk of them are going to be continually on the periphery, and few will be satisfied with an occasional Carabao Cup outing, while we still remain in the competition. But the signs are that Christiansen has built a team mentality with a selfless attitude, and there is no doubt that over the course of the next nine months, they will all be needed at some point.

So September brings us a pleasing run of home league games after nearly a month without one. August 15th saw us draw 0-0 with Fulham, and September 9th brings the visit of Burton Albion. It’s only our second Saturday matchday of the season and we can’t wait to get the live band on in the beer garden, the kitchen cooking pies, and Paolo the Peacock out of his sleepy hibernation. We will be more than ready to welcome you all on Saturday, and again on Tuesday 12th when Birmingham City are our visitors, and we will hopefully be firing up the barbecue to deliver our new midweek matchday BBQ menu. That’s not the end of the action for September either, as Ipswich Town will be stopping off at Elland Road on Saturday 23rd to complete a mammoth and exhausting month. We will certainly know a lot more about who the real Leeds United is by this time, and let’s hope the next International break is just as unwelcome as this last one has been. However much we dislike a fortnight without ‘proper’ football, it’s far more pleasant to go into a two-week break on the back of the 2-0 ‘pasting’ of a supposed promotion rival, so all being well we will repeat the trick in September.

In the meantime, come on down and enjoy the matchday experience at the Old Peacock. As it stands, for all the positivity, Leeds haven’t won a home league game as yet, so they need all the support they can get at Elland Road over the next few games, to show they can back up all the promise demonstrated away from home, and ensure people are really talking about us.