Champions-elect’s reserve side dump Burnley out of cup TSS September 20, 2017 Leeds United 2 Comments I doubt anyone was expecting Leeds to struggle this season, but under new ownership, new management and with a lengthy list of new recruits, no one expected us to race out of the blocks and lead the Championship after 8 games. Accepted wisdom is that so many new faces take time to gel and with Leeds reeling from the loss of the Championship’s top goalscorer, Chris Wood, the bookmakers gave us odds befitting a team expected to finish mid-table, but with a reasonable chance of scraping the play-offs – which, had you asked a crowd of Leeds supporters before the first game kicked off, is what a fair percentage of them would have predicted as well. Myself included. But here we are. Top of the league and having just ended Burnley’s hopes of League Cup progression. And while this is early days, the depth this squad has provides plenty of cause for optimism. Leeds’ strength was perfectly encapsulated by victory over Premier League Burnley last night. Having bought arguably Leeds’ two best players in Chris Wood and Charlie Taylor, Burnley were undone by what was basically Leeds’ reserve side. As one Leeds fan on Twitter perfectly summed it up – “nine changes, no weaknesses”. It goes to show just how well Leeds have recruited with the money Burnley provided. I doubt you’d find a single Leeds fan who’d trade Alioski or Saiz for Chris Wood. Last season our one outlet for attack was the big New Zealander, but his departure has invited everyone else to get in on the action and opposition are having a difficult time figuring out who to mark. Dallas is in the form of his life, but like Sacko and Vieira, is struggling to get a game. Leeds’ options are legion. Where once you need only keep Pablo Hernandez quiet, you now have several players capable of creating – and taking – chances. And when those on the pitch have no success, there’s plenty more on the bench waiting to pounce on the opportunity. Naturally, our fans are starting to get excited, as evidenced by soaring attendances. But they’re not alone in rethinking Leeds’ potential, with online bookmakers UK having slashed odds on Leeds getting promoted, now ranking us second favourites, roughly on a par with Boro and Cardiff, second only to Wolves. There’s work to be done of course. I’m happy to gloss over the loss to Millwall as a bad day at a ground where we rarely see success. But it’s a loss Thomas Christiansen and his new recruits have to learn from, because Millwall are the kind of physical, gritty team this Leeds United side may struggle with. Fortunately, the quality of football in the Championship has improved in recent years – thanks to the vast sums of money circulating within it – and there are plenty of grounds you can go to and play a decent game. Millwall are a bit more ‘back to basics’ however, and in the same way Stoke City had a habit of upsetting decent Prem sides, teams like Millwall have to try and make things as uncomfortable as possible for the likes of Hernandez, Saiz and Alioski to give themselves a chance. Whether those players needed that wake-up call or more could have been done to prepare for Millwall is open to debate. Personally, I think having all three in that kind of fixture was a little risky, but Christiansen has made very few missteps so far and it would be criminally unfair to start criticising him for that one. Especially when I’m convinced he’ll learn from it and adapt. Champions-elect might be overselling it, but teams that go on to win divisions usually develop an air of untouchable cockiness along the way and I figure I’d get a jump on that. Fact is, I don’t know if Leeds can maintain this level of performance all season and take an automatic spot, but I’m confident we’ll finish in the top six and there’s no reason to think we can’t go one better. Our defence has been near impervious so far, despite a series of injuries preventing us from fielding a consistent back four. Liam Cooper has gone from liability to world-beater, seemingly overnight. Where last season a single defensive injury was genuine cause for panic, this season we seem to be able to play anyone there and do just fine. The attack meanwhile is an embarrassment of riches. While Saiz is arguably key, there’s so many players fighting to get in our attacking line that injuries are entirely manageable. That depth means players have to impress every chance they get and the benefits of that are showing game after game. Who plays centre-forward almost doesn’t matter, but our options there aren’t looking bad either. I don’t know if Leeds will finish top. I just know that we can. And that’s a staggering leap forwards. On and on… Matthew Farrugia Excellent piece, mirroring my optimism perfectly. Depth and quality, key ingredients for a serious promotion push, and we have them. Muz The bet I put on in preseason for us to win the league at 16-1 is looking better by the day. I can already cash out with a small profit.