Bielsa admits we have a problem defending set pieces
Tuesday, 8th Jan 2019 23:16 by Tim Whelan
QPR’s winning goal in the cup tie on Sunday was the 10th Leeds have conceded from a set piece this season, and it’s starting to be a bit of a drag. This isn’t exactly a new issue for Leeds United, and in fact it seems to have infected most Leeds United sides for at least a decade now.
It goes back at least as far as the nightmare of the final months of Gary Mc.Allister’s spell as Leeds United manager, when the number of goals Leeds were conceding from corners led to the run of defeats that destroyed morale and caused his dismissal in December 2008. Simon Grayson sorted the defence out in the early part of his reign, but it wasn’t that long before the same old habits were creeping back into our game.
In more recent times the inability to defend set pieces played a large part in the way last season unravelled after such a promising start. Though we weren’t helped by having Wiedwald flapping around in goal, completely unfamiliar with the physical demands of the English game. And Bielsa admitted that the malady lingers on when he spoke to the Yorkshire Post in the wake of Sunday’s defeat.
“It is not a new problem. Every week we dedicate a high percentage of time to set-pieces. We have a look at what’s not well done and we try to correct it. Of course we try to find the solution to this problem with different players, but our best headers are (Liam) Cooper, (Pontus) Jansson and (Gaetano) Berardi. At one point we stabilised the problem, but as they are not in the team this problem is coming back again.”
But as far as that game is concerned, our Argentinian supremo might need to look at his own tactics. Specifically the decision to take Halme off at half time, which left Lief Davis marking the taller and stronger Bidwell, which inevitably led to the QPR man out-jumping him to score the winning goal. Perhaps Halme was ‘hooked’ because he had been booked early on, so Bielsa didn’t want to risk him being sent off and being suspended for the Derby game, when he will be needed to replace Phillips.
Sometimes in other games I think another problem might be that we play without a big centre forward, which can leave us lacking a bit height at the other end of the field when big central defenders go up for set pieces and we’ve no one left to mark them. This was certainly apparent at Blackburn in October, a game which accounted for 2 of the goals we’ve conceded from corners.
Tony Mowbray’s tactics that day were that whoever was picked up by Cooper and Jansson would run wide, leaving the centre half to make a late run into the centre as the ball was delivered. And that certainly worked, so we can be thankful that other managers in the Championship have cottoned on. (Don’t worry, they won’t be reading this).
Many of us are bemused by Bielsa’s insistence that he won’t be strengthening a relatively small and inexperienced squad while the current transfer window is open, and nowhere do we seem to be more stretched than in central defence. Apart from the constant injuries we seem to be picking up (which some fans fear might be down to the amount of hard training they have to do) it has been known for Cooper, Jansson, Berardi and Phillips to pick up suspensions on a regular basis.
We’ve even sent two central defenders out on loan for the rest of the season. Conor Shaughnessy has gone to Hearts (though to be honest I’ve never been that impressed when he’s turned out for us) and Paudie O’Connor went straight off to Bradford as soon as his spell at Blackpool came to an end. Which leaves Halme as the backup for the more experienced squad members. He’s certainly highly rated, but he’s still got a bit to learn, for all his prowess at the other end of the field.
We could have signed Robert Huth even before the window opened, as he’s currently out of contract, but we didn’t make a move even when he said in an interview that he’d love to come to Leeds. I’ve always thought of him as a bit of a nasty yob, but at least he would have been our nasty yob, and it’s still only three years since he won a Premier League winner’s medal.
It’s good that Bielsa is keen to give the younger players a chance and I wouldn’t want to stifle their development, but there are a couple of positions where we could do with another experienced player to keep the promotion bid on track. If Bielsa wants to solve the set piece problem that he himself has identified, then maybe another central defender of the stature of Huth could be the answer.
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