Tuesday nights 2-2 draw with Hull City left a lot of Leeds United fans questioning the logic behind Simon Grayson playing a 4-4-2 formation that has so far this season, proved very ineffective.

The more commonly used 4-5-1 formation is seen by most Leeds United fans as a stronger option both in defence (with a holding midfielder available to sure up our back-line) and in attack where our attacking midfield players have been knocking goals in almost at will this season.

Players lining up (by MAMF)

So it came as somewhat of a surprise when Davide Somma and Luciano Becchio were once again partnered up front, with Neil Kilkenny remaining on the bench. There’s been a nagging voice in the back of everyone’s mind for some time now telling us that Somma needs to be given more minutes on the pitch, or Leeds will run the risk of losing the division’s most consistent striker (a goal every 91 minutes his current average), but Simon Grayson’s call polarised opinion.

The result was quite a bitter-sweet one in many ways. For some reason, our defence seemed less troubled playing 4-4-2 than they so often do with an extra midfielder helping them out. But stability at the back seems to have limited the excitement factor that’s been present in almost every game so far this season.

We did create chances, and had it not been for Becchio missing two absolute sitters, the game would have been put to bed by half-time. Somma also had a dreadful opening 45, showing all the control and precision of a buckled unicycle.

Nothing had changed on the wings where Gradel and Snoddy were having no trouble beating Coventry City’s full-backs as  Leeds looked to get their noses in front, but the overall play seemed somewhat lethargic at times. Even the atmosphere inside Elland Road seemed half-hearted, despite the ever-amusing ‘she said no Marlon, she said no…‘ chant the Leeds faithful indulged in throughout.

A busy shift for Mad Max (by MAMF)

Even after the two missed sitters, Leeds were never in any danger of losing this one. Good work from Max Gradel created an opening for Leeds and when Jonny Howson cut back to Davide Somma 10 minutes into the second half, the outcome was inevitable.

1-0, and that’s how it stayed. A third gear Leeds United were unquestionably the best team throughout and deserved nothing less than three points but the game itself was an instantly forgettable one, that at times reminded me of the Blackwell era.

Players celebrate following Somma goal (by MAMF)

They say to be successful in football, you have to learn to win 1-0 and maybe that’s where Leeds United have been going wrong. The free-scoring thrillers are certainly much more pleasurable to watch than this one was, but with only one win from our last seven before kick-off, it didn’t really matter how we got the job done.

TSS man of the match

No vote this week because there’s only one possible contender in my mind and that’s Max Gradel. Everything positive Leeds United did today seemed to come through him. His shooting was a little hopeful and wayward at times, but he opened the Coventry City defence up effortlessly throughout.

Pictures used in this article are courtesy of MAMF

31 Responses

  1. Irving08

    I was unable to go to the match today, but I must demur from the headline – that the result justified 4-4-2. The fact that the defence kept a clean sheet (or that Somma scored what sounded like a tap in) cannot be adduced in support of this system. Everything I heard in the Yorkshire radio commentary suggested just the opposite – Somma not holding the ball up, Becchio coming deep, Howson seeming a bit lost to anme but three items.
    And it is misleading (deliberatly so?) to describe the successful alternative as 4-5-1, as did Simon Grayson in yesterday’s Yorkshire Post. He knows perfectly well that the way Leeds were playing the non 4-4-2 system in their successful run is in fact 4-2-3-1 – which with our players is definitely is not just another way of describing 4-5-1. I can only think he misdescribed it in order to legitimise retaining the Somma ‘tacti’c. Sometimes I suspect that Simon either mistakes tactics for strategy, or does not really know the difference. Well, strategy comes first, and tactics are subordinate to it. Without a clarity on this distinction, we will at best muddle our way to the Premier League, or as I predict not mange it all. I would be much more confident of our chances if Simon would stick with the formation that makes the optimum use of our resources. It takes a very clever manager indeed to become successful purely on the basis of ‘tactics’.

  2. TSS


    I said above both strikers were disappointing and we lost a lot of our flair. However, we kept a clean sheet and never really looked troubled at the back – something we’ve not once done with 4-5-1.

    Whether that’s the formation or a poor Coventry side helping us out is hard to say. What I do know is that on any other day, we’d have gifted King at least half a dozen opportunities through silly errors, poor positioning and day-dreaming.

    • Irving08

      I don’t agree that it is an open question. Coventry are a very poor side at present whereas our best run of results came with the formation I describe. Now Johnson and Killekenny may not make the ideal 2, but the formation is sufficiently robust to work with them in those positions. What really worries me about Simon is an appearance of uncertainty about the best strategy – an inability to decide on a way to play and stick with it – which is characteristic of the best managers. It is a bit like the national side – logic points to systems of play superior to 4-4-2, yet for whatever reason, this is the default system. In our case, it seems like a way to justify purchases (Paynter) or to reward a happy substitution (Somma). The clinching points in any argument over systems, so far as we are concerned, should be the position that makes best use of Howson’s singular talents and keeps Becchio away from midfield (somew migh add and which does not leave Johnson looking stranded like a beach whale in the middle of the park). Simon must ignore the ‘whispers in his ears’, or try to play the opposition and instead trust the evidence – even simpler, just write down his best X1, which, surprise,surprise, produces, well you know what…Nice to see Norwich lost.

      • TSS


        The thing is, if you pick the best XI then Somma is included and I’d argue Johnson/Killa would be dropped in his favour – which gives you 4-4-2 unfortunately.

        Becchio, whilst impressive this season, actually works well in a 4-4-2 playing a little deeper. I’ve been surprised by how many he’s managed to score alone up front because he isn’t the most clinical finisher, which we saw evidence of twice today and numerous times last season. That said, he’s clearly adaptable and capable of playing either role so his part in all this is irrelevant – he may score less goals in the 4-4-2 formation, but Somma would pick up the slack.

        As for the 4-5-1, it has worked brilliantly in some areas and failed massively in others. We lack organisation at the back and commit too many forward, meaning we’re always going to concede playing it. That didn’t happen with 4-4-2, which is theoretically ridiculous, but on today’s evidence, the 4-4-2 seemed to suit our defensive side better.

        There are obvious flaws with both formations, but without a strong holding player 4-5-1 doesn’t provide the cover it technically should. Without said player, it may be worthwhile playing 4-4-2 and relying solely on the two wingers and two strikers to create and convert the chances, whilst Johnson and Howson play more orthodox midfield roles which cover the defence.

        I’m not sure there’s a right or a wrong answer, but the way I see it is we either play to our attacking strengths with the 4-5-1 and continue to leak goals at a monumental rate, or we try something different and see if we can stop the rot. Alternatively, Grayson could bring the player in we’ve needed all along but they’re obviously few and far between or I’m sure he would have done already.

        Let’s not kid ourselves that Grayson is trying to keep certain players or the fans happy by the way – he’s never shown any evidence of doing that in the past, so I sincerely doubt he’s started now.

  3. TheReaper08

    @TSS I think we came up against a very poor side today, nothing to be taken form this game I’m afraid (apart from 3 points of course !).

    • TSS


      Was certainly a poor side, but we’ve played much worse and gifted them openings with our mistakes and poor positioning. The only thing that’s changed since then is the formation, so it’s hard not to wonder whether the 4-5-1 is the cause of our defensive problems.

      The thing with 4-5-1 is that there’s little organisation at the back. Jonny affectively plays striker, Killa hasn’t got a tackle in him and Bradley kind of wonders between the two. The wingers and the full-backs also play in the oppositions half for 90% of the game, so the two centre backs end up with little or no support.

      The flatter, and less interesting 4-4-2 seemed to keep players a little more confined and organised. That’s why the game was so boring – because Leeds were organised.

      On the flipside, our strikers suffered. Becchio and Somma didn’t look good alongside each other, but maybe that’s just down to lack of practice playing such roles.

      • Irving08

        Simon’s comment on 4-5-1 in the Yorkshire Post was precisley that it required the full backs to do too much attacking, the implication being that the ‘two wide players have to move inwards to compensate fill gaps in midfield. Personally I do not see this: it depends on the two who ar eplaying in front of the back four and on whether the wide players are naturals in that position. We are lucky to have natural wide plalyers (unlike Chelsea, for exampel), so the issue comes down to Johnson and Killa. Here opinions plainly differ: I rate Johnson higher in this position than some others on this site and, in my observation, he has acquitted himself pretty well in this position. Killa is more of a problem because of his weakness in the tackle, thought this is offset to some degree by his creative powers. In any event, I have more faith in these two playing in a 4-5-1 than of Becchio settling into a successful partnership with Somma this side of May. And there is no denying the fact that our run came to an end when Simon, for no good strategic reason, switched back to 4-4-2 against Portsmouth. And the results show that,even when Collins was playing as one of the back four, 4-5-1 has yielded more points per game than 4-4-2. A good debate,…..

  4. TheReaper08

    @TSS Personally I think the problems lies with Johnson. He isn’t the solution to the role we need him to play. Think about it, we like Howson attacking, we like our defence and our keeper, we have got decent wide men, so that leaves……

    We don’t struggle to score goals no matter who plays so I am not too bothered about that right now.

    • TSS

      @TheReaper08 I don’t know, I kind of wonder whether Kilkenny is a bit of an issue too. He’s a bit shy of the tackle most of the time (scared to get his shirt dirty). Can’t see either making a Premier League Leeds United team.

      • TheReaper08

        @TSS I agree, I had kind of forgotten about him. Like gryff I think we need a proper ball winning, calming influence in the middle.

  5. Gryff

    I have this broken record, see. It says that the team doesn’t have a holding midfielder on its books!

    Glad we got a clean sheet. If we could get the formation to work with Somma & Becchio up front I reckon we’d be lethal with Howson, Snoddy & Gradel behind them.

    I saw Coventry play QPR the other day and although QPR were much better, there were spells when Coventry looked quite good going against them. I only heard the match on radio today, so I dunno if there were any promising signs from the formation? Sounded like we could’ve had 2-3 though.

  6. Dje

    1-0 and dull is a refreshing change, well the no goals conceded and three points in the bag. Hopefully with time the flow and cutting edge of our 4-5-1 will emerge in our 4-4-2. After that, world domination!

    I hope we don’t get carried away and start with 4-4-2 when away at better quality opposition than Coventry. A goal glory 4-5-1 and grabbing a point away in a 3-3 epic sounds about right (as long as we bang the home games down with a dull 1-0 victory each time).

    I have to say that I was eagerly awaiting the chance to see Nunez. I can’t blame Grayson for not bringing him on, as at 1-0 it was too tight to go with the more unknown option of Nunez over the tried and tested, Kilkenny, or the tried and untesting their keeper, Paynter. Better luck next time, Ramon.

    Anyone know why McCormack wasn’t on the bench? Injury? Big sulk? In Paris watching the rugby with the wife and kids for the weekend?

    • Tim Campbell

      I think we might have seen nunez play today, if we had been playing 4-5-1. Playing behind the front man would suit him down to the ground and I reckon he could bag quite a few goals from there. I’m not complaining about today – 3pts is 3pts and if we can 1-0 it til the end of the season and get promoted I would be over the moon, entertainment or no entertainment

  7. TSS

    Interestingly, only two games at Elland Road this season have ended 1-0 (the other being v Sheffield United) and on both occasions we played 4-4-2 with Somma and Becchio partnered up front.

    Maybe 4-4-2 is the better option at home, with 4-5-1 preferable away?

  8. Christopher Gee

    If we do go for 4-4-2 then the 2 better get used to playing together. Not even the Jones – Clarke combo worked straight away.

  9. Stuart Wood

    Well, there’s always one….
    I have to disagree with a number of points posted on here:
    – Gradel man of the match? Wasteful and selfish in the first half, regained his focus in the second. For me Snoddy was a joy to watch. He totally skinned Coventry’s defenders – at one point he had 4 players around him and he still emerged with the ball, and don’t forget it was his close control that set Gradel off down the left which ultimately led to Somma’s goal. How many times did Snoddy lose the ball? rarely, and his delivery was excellent all afternoon.
    – As for the ‘4-4-2 makes Leeds a dull team’ – I thoroughly enjoyed the game! I’ve seen many a game playing the 4-5-1 way and we have looked lethargic and clueless (M’boro?) until we concede. Today the game was fast and free-flowing with great passing. If we had buried the sitters (stand up Mr. Becchio!) the scoreline would have justified the more assured display I saw today and this 4-4-2 debate would have fewer legs. I’m one very happy White after today.

    • TSS


      All fair points. Snoddy did have a good game (as per usual) so wouldn’t argue with anyone saying he was man of the match – although, I still think Gradel.

      Maybe a goal in the first half would have made me enjoy this game a little more, but I wouldn’t describe much of it as ‘free-flowing’. I totally agree there have been some dreadful showings with 4-5-1 as I’ve said above and you gave examples of. Maybe we were spoilt with too many unpredictable, all action clashes that this largely one-sided game seemed to pale in comparison?

      Anyway, varying opinions is what makes football interesting and the 4-4-2/4-5-1 debate will no doubt rage on. The main thing is, we got three points and kept a clean sheet.

  10. Bill

    Would say Mad Max just edged Snoddy for MoM, the run and cross/chip to Howson to lay on the goal was quality as were his runs in the first half. Yes he can be selfish but in fairness he has converted many this season after jinking thru’.

    I liked their 17 Gunnerson in the middle altho’ he was lucky when his apparant headbut went unpunished.

    and finally…what a save Kasper, take a bow son! (as they used to say on telly)

  11. trueyorxman

    In Daily Mail today Shaun Derrys asked for his career highlights, his reply ‘1: helping Palace stave off relegation last season, 2: Playing for Leeds United. Wearing that white shirt & playing at Elland Road words cannot describe. Purely magical’ SAY NO F**KING MORE!! MOT

  12. Ron

    @trueyorxman I also thoroughly enjoyed that interview and I fancy he won’t be buying many beers when he passes through Leeds in the future.

    As for the match, 3 points and a Norwich loss. I suspect Nunez is wishing he’d stayed in the sun rather than freeze his ring off on the bench. Just looking at the conjecture on here each week tells you how hard Larry’s job is to pick a team, especially with players coming back. Watt will be fit again soon and Sam would be starting in most other clubs. I would like to see our subs used more than they are though. Involvement is good for the squad and it’s no good having competition if it is restricted to the training ground.

    Roll on the loan window. If we don’t use it I’ll f*cking jump out my window.

  13. dess

    Interestingly there are games where we have been behind and only from changing the formation from 4-5-1 to 4-4-2 late on in the game have me managed to take points out of the game.

  14. Loved them diamond floodlights

    Gradel was the man give the ball away or not he was the spark without him it was a draw at best

    Atmosphere poor probably due to every man and his dog Saying we have to win when we didn’t we will be ok we are doing well win lose or draw against Coventry ,we and every other team will have strange results before this season is out and there is a shed load of points to go at we could win this league FACT!

    Totally off subject somma will when rounded be subject to a rather large transfer fee rough diamond never been more appropriate .

  15. Jim Barnett

    Totally agree with @sawfeet, what I saw yesterday was a solid team performance with some excellent movement of the ball, against a poor team who had nothing to offer.

    The defence was rarely troubled with Kasper making a great save at the end. Defensively we kept a clean sheet – hallelujah – and contrary to the above I thought Johnson was excellent, providing the necessary cover required from two men in the centre.

    Obviously our wingers are sh*t hot, Gradel and Snodgrass looked like they were on a different planet to their full backs. The only players who struggled to get into the game were Howson and Somma…oh wait they got us the goal! Becchio was quiet and missed two sitters but still, his hold up play first half was good.

  16. Jim Barnett

    p.s. also think McCartney’s worth a mention, his overlapping in the first half gave Gradel options

  17. richard

    I was surprised Somma and Bechhio started together, i didnt think it really worked last time. Yes we won but it was a dire game to watch and against better opposition i think we`d struggle.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.