Monk's return adds to pressure on Leeds United boss
To say Sunday's game is a big one for Leeds United head coach Thomas Christiansen is one huge understatement.
It was always going to be a big pressure game for the Whites and their latest boss with the previous head coach Garry Monk back in town with his Middlesbrough team. The fans would demand nothing less than a victory anyway over someone who went from a much loved figure at the club to a much hated one in the summer when he walked out of Elland Road.
But with the poor run of results United are carrying into their meeting with Middlesbrough it has become a game that Christiansen dare not lose if he has to have a long term future in English football.
Yet another defeat and questions are bound to be asked about why Monk was allowed to leave and why Christiansen was the man brought in to replace him.
Fans will also be looking to see signs of some sort of improvement or progress in the Leeds team with a full fortnight to prepare for the match.
For Christiansen it is pretty much a new challenge he is facing, having never previously gone four games without a win in management. If United lose on Sunday they will have lost four straight home games never mind simply not won in four.
While owner Andrea Radrizzani has seemingly backed his choice as Monk’s replacement so far, patience will surely run thin unless the team can get something out of the Middlesbrough match.
That task will be far from easy with Boro showing signs of the same sort of steady improvement that Leeds made at the same time last year under Monk with victories in the last three games and only one goal conceded in them.
They now stand in fifth place in the Sky Bet Championship, although defeat for them on Sunday would see them on the same points as Leeds.
Middlesbrough are proving harder to beat than the Whites with just four losses so far to United’s seven, although they have scored three goals fewer.
There is no doubt that under Christiansen the style of football Leeds have been striving for has been more attractive and more attack based, but they lack the resilience they had under Monk and somehow need to find more strength from somewhere in the two weeks off from action.
Christiansen will have some interesting selection decisions to make in every department.
Tactically, there have been calls to switch to a front two and/or a back three, while individually what does the coach do with out of form but previously reliable players in defenders Luke Ayling and Pontus Jansson and midfielder Eunan O’Kane?
After Andy Lonergan’s mistakes at Brentford his place in goals is suddenly under threat, although Felix Wiedwald has looked short on confidence and cannot be relied on at this stage to be the answer to goalkeeping problems. Before the last match Lonergan had been outstanding so he should get another chance to redeem himself, but maybe Christiansen was a bit quick to leave his initial choice as number one out.
On the wings there are plenty of options, but no definite solutions after much chopping and changing so far and no-one holding down a regular place in the team. Stuart Dallas has been the most consistent wide player, but his selection must be in doubt following an injury picked up playing for Northern Ireland and a tough, draining two matches.
Up front Pierre-Michel Lasogga has been hit and miss and Jay-Roy Grit has been just about all miss, but at least there does appear some good news here with the return to fitness of Caleb Ekuban giving the head coach some much needed extra competition for places.
While he looks a raw prospect he did show some promise at the start of the season and right now Leeds are clinging to any ray of hope.