Match Previews

Ask the Expert: Leeds United (H)

Ahead of Leeds United's visit to Carrow Road, reporter and author Phil Hay gives his verdict on the club's season so far. It's been a difficult start to the season for Leeds, certainly compared to last year. What do you put it down to?

PH: It has been strange for us. It's a very unusual patch for (Marcelo) Bielsa, almost unheard of at Leeds anyway. It's not that they haven't had difficult periods before but this is the most sustained period when it's been difficult to pick up wins. The form hasn't quite been there.

Across the board in the squad, there are a lot of players who aren't playing at the level they were at a season or two ago. They've got one or two outstanding performers, particularly Raphinha at the moment, but it's fair to say that, as a whole, a lot of players can play a lot better than they have done.

As a team, we've seen Leeds play better many times than they have in these first nine games, so it's a definite dip.

To be fair to Bielsa and the squad, they've had so few dips like it on his watch, and that's running up now towards 150 games as manager. It's hardly ever been like this and it's only fair to accept that from time to time this is going to catch up with them like it does with every team.

At the same time, I think they're realising that this is game ten of the season on Sunday and you're more of a quarter of the way in by that point. The league position and points tally isn't good enough and they'd probably accept that several of the performances haven't been good enough so they do need to improve. You mentioned Raphinha, who is such a key player for Leeds and expected to be available for the weekend. Do you think he can make a big difference to where they finish this season?

PH: I think he's in everybody's fantasy team! My Twitter feed at the moment is constantly full of people discussing whether he's going to make it to the weekend.

He's been an absolute steal at 17 million pounds and I think there's already an acceptance at the club and amongst the support that, while they never want to lose this guy, he does look like a Champions League player.

He's in the Brazil national squad now and is somebody who seems to be improving exponentially and is clearly worth far more than they paid for him when they signed him from Rennes.

He absolutely makes the difference and is the one player this season who they've looked to more than anybody else to force things when it's not quite happening.

I don't think there's any doubt that him and Kalvin Phillips are the two key parts of the backbone in this side - the two really big players with most value. Leeds do look diminished when they're not in the side.

It sounded today like he will play or at the very least be available and that is really important for Leeds, who are still without (Patrick) Bamford upfront and still have injuries elsewhere. He really is a player you'd be picking every week if he's fit. Bamford was on impressive form last season. Do you think he will rediscover that form once he recovers from injury?

PH: I think so. I remember going down to Norwich with Leeds and Bamford was a substitute that day. He was warming up on the touchline and he was getting a bit of stick from the crowd.

I think that told you that his time at Norwich wasn't particularly productive and wasn't a period that he enjoyed.

It was one of a number of spells in his career that made people ask whether or not he was a Premier League striker and if he could play at this level.

He's been bothered by injuries and that tends to affect his form and input. Last season, he was the main source of goals and a reliable one, not far off 20 goals.

He got himself into the England squad. Bielsa has done really big things for his confidence. It was a little bit like when (Aitor) Karanka was at Middlesbrough in the first spell Bamford had up there.

Bielsa knew exactly what he wanted to do with Bamford and has been very supportive of him. His faith hasn't wavered even when there have been periods when he's been criticised or when his finishing hasn't been quite spot on.

What goes a bit un-noticed if you don't watch Leeds too often is how big a part of the team he is off the ball. He's the player who sparks the high press, does a lot of chasing in the channels, can drop deep, is extremely energetic and puts himself about.

On top of the finishing, Leeds do miss that when he's not in the team. Leeds have come from behind to get a few points with some late goals, none later than last weekend's 94th minute equaliser against Wolves. Was that the least they deserved, given their dominance in that game?

PH: They absolutely deserved something from the game. I've been saying all week on podcasts that it was a strange atmosphere at Elland Road because I've never seen a crowd react to a 1-1 draw at this stage of the season in the way that they did.

It felt more like a play-off game or a point at the end of the season when you're going for promotion and every single point matters.

What happened in the second half was that, to an extent, people could probably feel the trip to Norwich looming and the expectation that you'd be going to a side who were winless and with pressure on you to win the game.

Everybody - the players and the crowd - invested so much in that second half, that something had to come out of it, regardless of what it was, an equaliser or a winner. It just had to yield something.

Because it did, it felt like a very big moment and it was quite surreal. You rarely come out of a ground nine games into the season feeling like that, but you'd like to think it would make a difference this weekend to the way the players are feeling.

They lost to Arsenal midweek in the League Cup, so you hope that hasn't lost any impetus, but it did feel like a big moment. It felt potentially like a turning point in the season, the sort of thing that could really get them going. One player who caught the eye in that game was Joe Gelhardt, who made his debut and caused lots of problems. What do you know about him and what did you think of his performance?

PH: We've written about him at length and the most interesting stories with him go back to his youth team performances, when he used to do things like score ten goals in one game against Huddersfield and five in one game against Manchester United.

He was a proper youth team goal machine. I was speaking to one of the academy staff at Wigan, who said when you were trying to decide which age group to go and watch at the weekend, you were always inclined to go and watch Gelhardt because you knew he'd do something that was worth seeing.

He's got an unusual physique for a player. He's got a very stocky build in the way that Wayne Rooney had and there have been a lot of people making comparisons between the two of them while Gelhardt's been growing up.

He's got a wonderful centre of gravity and this great footballing brain. He seems to know where to put himself when the balls coming to him, he's got a real eye for goal.

Leeds got him for just under one million pounds because Wigan were in administration and he's going to be worth a huge amount more than that if he carries on with this trajectory.

Whether he'll play much at Norwich on Sunday, I don't know, because Bielsa very much takes his own view with these things, but he's definitely someone to keep an eye on because he's a big, big prospect.

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