22nd July 2023, Pre-season friendly.
Once again, I don’t think there is too much point in reading too much into this performance. Leeds had two games under their belt before kick-off yesterday – an opening match against Man United in Oslo and that behind-closed-doors affair against Barnsley. We might expect to start to see something of how Daniel Farke intends to play but we are getting little clue as to who will start that crucial first league game with the Bluebirds in two weeks’ time.
As to how we might play, well, there were signs that it is going to be about quick pressing, and then quick short passes, mingled with the odd long ball over the top. But that could describe any football match really! The first half reminded me of the game against Blackpool at the same York City LNER stadium this time last season. Leeds looked sharp, there seemed to be a growing understanding between the players and a few had good moments. We saw flashes from Luis Sinisterra, Archie Gray often showed that Great Uncle Eddie’s dancing feet might well have been passed down the gene line in the Gray family, and Ethan Ampadu looked calm on the ball and had that important long ball in his locker. Indeed, after a strong opening from Monaco, Leeds were the better, certainly the more attractive side but still, we looked to be missing a few pieces of the jigsaw. Georginio Rutter again showed brief moments of clever footwork but again, for the money we paid for him you have to ask, “Does he really have enough to make a difference in the hurly-burly of Championship football”. He faded away before being substituted in the 66th minute.
Where is the man who is going to score a boatload of goals? Where is the Pablo Hernandez type of player who is going to convert all the pretty football in midfield into a telling through ball? We didn’t have either last season and we still don’t.
It’s not surprising that the ‘style’ of football looked similar to that early game last season – the majority of the players we saw first half yesterday we saw against Blackpool (or could have done if they hadn’t missed the start of last season like Ayling, Coops and Bamford). It is not surprising either that the result went against us, despite Leeds probably creating the best chances. The problem as so often last season was that we couldn’t finish them.
Luis Sinisterra should have scored in the first ten minutes when one of those long raking balls from Ampadu found Sini in space on the edge of the area in a central position. He brought the ball down professionally but then struck the bouncing ball over the top like an amateur without even troubling the keeper. You simply must put such chances away, they don’t come often enough to miss them as often as we do.
Luke Ayling had a great chance when he arrived at his favourite back post position but he put his volleyed shot into the side netting so we didn’t get another air guitar rendition this time. Leo Hjelde showed that at least he knows how to strike a football but the otherwise untroubled Monaco keeper pulled off a fine save to deny Leo’s well-struck low drive. Had we had a real centre forward in the middle instead of just Dan James we might just have converted another cross later too.
At halftime, at least we could say we’d had the better of the game, but for all the pretty football, those few chances were not a great reward.
Leeds made three changes at the break – Cresswell for Coops, Willy Gnonto for Summerville who’d taken a heavy knock in that first half, and Joe Gelhardt for Sinisterra. Once again we got what we already knew about really. Charlie Cresswell is a big strong centre-back, but he’s still a bit raw and could easily have given away a penalty early in the new half as he slid in dangerously for a tackle, fortunately missing both the ball and (most of) his man. Is he really ready for us in a promotion chase? I’m not sure anymore but his strength could be an asset if he can show more control. We know what Joe Gelhardt brings too, all action, quick feet, an eye for a pass but again, as Sunderland found out, not a regular goal threat. Willy Gnonto played like a young man with things on his mind and, like Sinisterra, Summerville and Dan James, showed the odd glimpse of quality without really getting us very excited very often.
And in another moment that looked very much ‘last season’, after looking the better side, Willy Gnonto then made a rash challenge and referee Bobby Madley pointed at the spot. Madley then had a few smiles as the Leeds fans behind that end reminded him of his ignominious departure from English football a few years ago. Of course, Wissam Ben Yedder made no mistake with his exaggerated stutter of a run-up and neat finish.
Leeds sent on Mateo Joseph, Patrick Bamford, Jamie Shackleton, Sam Byram, Darko Gyabi and Cody Drameh, replacing Ayling, Ampadu, Gray, James, Hjelde and Rutter. Mat Joseph worked hard and you can see there is a baller there but again I just don’t see enough for long enough periods from him. Patrick Bamford missed a chance but at least found some space in the middle at times, Sam Byram looked OK as a makeshift left-back and certainly didn’t look out of place in the company around him; I’d bet we make him an offer with Farke knowing him so well but let’s hope it’s not at the expense of getting a real left-back…. We’re still waiting for one of those, especially since it now looks likely that Firpo is at best leaving or at worst injured again!
In fact, I’m not going to go through all our players, they all looked OK, not anything special, but OK and I think that’s the problem. Just as it was last season we are missing the key links in our chain to enable a group of OK players to form a better than OK team. A clinical finisher, a big thinking centre back – Max Wober is that man but it seems he’s going - and, sorry to say it again, that Pablo Hernandez wizard to turn pretty play into cutting passes and easier chances.
The second Monaco goal showed that, defensively, we are still a long way short of OK. Out of nothing with 12 minutes to go, Krepin Diatta was given far too much space and time to allow him to put across a measured ball and Kevin Volland was completely unmarked and able to rise and thump a beautiful header into the top corner in the manner John Charles used to do all those years ago! If we defend like that in the Championship we can forget promotion. You don’t need to be a John Charles to put away easy chances like that!
We all know though that we need those new faces to boost the overall effectiveness of this squad and with the news that Tyler Adams is now likely out for the first five or six weeks of the season, add in another one too! Yes, it’s too early to read too much into any performance we see but no, it’s not too early to know we are way short of what we need.
Leeds United 0
AS Monaco 2 (Ben Yedder 60’ pen, Volland 78’)
Leeds: Meslier (GK), Ayling (Drameh 66’), Ampadu (Shackleton 66’), Cooper (C) (Cresswell 45’), Summerville (Gnonto 45’), James (Bamford 66’), Struijk, Gray (Gyabi 66’), Sinisterra (Gelhardt 45’), Rutter (Joseph 66’), Hjelde (Byram 66’).
Subs not used: Klaesson (GK), Van den Heuvel, Bate, Poveda.
Monaco: Kohn (GK), Akliouche, Seghir, Boadu, Camara, Olivieira Campos, Disasi (C), Matazo, Matsima, Okou, Oliveira Silva. Second half: Kohn (GK) (Liennard 62’), Ben Yedder, Golovin, Diop, Maripan, Jakobs, Valme, Aguilar (Magassa 72’), Fofana, Diatta, Volland.
Referee: Bobby Madley
Venue: LNER Community Stadium, York