Part of weekly feature written for WalesOnline
Cardiff City will travel to Leeds United on Saturday looking to bounce back from a disappointing defeat at the hands of Alex Neil’s Norwich City in a game many felt the Bluebirds did not deserve to lose.
Leeds occupy fifth place in the Championship and are looking to cement a play-off position. With six straight victories at home, Garry Monk’s side present a daunting challenge for Neil Warnock’s men. Indeed, the last time they suffered a loss on their own turf was against Newcastle United, stretching back four months.
Cardiff will line up against a Leeds team intent on licking their wounds, following a cruel loss at Huddersfield last weekend where tensions frayed and Monk became involved in an ugly altercation with David Wagner.
Here’s all you need to know about Leeds…
Style of play
Nurtured at Swansea City, Leeds boss Monk has been instilled with a philosophy predicated on possession-based football. It is only natural that he has sought to translate this onto his Leeds’ team.
A team-wide average of 76% pass completion, in a league notorious for not allowing opponents’ time on the ball, speaks to the style that Leeds look to adopt. Pontus Jansson, who has become a local hero, is a prime example of this ideology; a centre-back with 86% pass completion is a rare thing even in the Premier League, let alone the Championship.
Leeds, being at home, will almost certainly control the match and have the lion’s share of possession.
Possession without punch is futile, however, and Monk knows this. His teams seek to retain the ball, but move it with pace. They will take risks in trying to thread balls behind a defence.
The New Zealander boasts an impressive 18 goals in the league this season, second only to Dwight Gayle of Newcastle who has netted 20.
The 25 year-old striker is in prolific form, scoring seven in his last six outings. It is obvious Wood poses the biggest threat to the City defence and the likes of Sean Morrison will have to be on their toes to combat his clever movement and instinctive finishing.
Warnock might be tempted to replicate the success Cardiff enjoyed when they deployed Sol Bamba on Jack Grealish against Aston Villa. Grealish’s effect on the game was negated by Bamba who refused to leave his orbit, pestering and hustling him for the entire match.
Bamba will want to make an impression on his return to Elland Road – where he left by mutual consent – and the nullifying of an inspired Wood presents a perfect opportunity to do so.
Like Wood, Hernandez is in scintillating form with four assists in his last six matches. The 31 year-old has thrived under Monk this season, reforming the partnership the pair had when they were both at Swansea.
Hernandez is charged with the task of slicing open defences and providing for the clinical Wood. He has created 52 chances this season alone, an impressive feat when compared to City midfielder Joe Ralls’ 19.
It will come as painful reading for many City fans, but Monk has done very well at Leeds and is shaping up to be one of the best young British managers in the game.
The general consensus was he was unfairly dismissed at Swansea, but he quickly recovered from any disappointment and took on a job riddled with problems. Leeds were a sinking ship in many ways, with owner Massimo Cellino cutting an erratic and capricious figure.
To his enormous credit, Monk has revitalised this sleeping giant and enthused the Yorkshire club with his own philosophy.
The ex-Swans player and manager will be keen to get another one over his former bitter rivals and there will an added importance on this match, whether he admits it or not.
Cardiff can expect Leeds to take the game to them and Warnock will set his team up to defend for large portions of the game.
However, the Bluebirds have an opportunity to stamp their own mark on the match. Leeds, for all their smooth passing, are particularly fragile in winning loose balls, or second balls, if you like. Cardiff can look to destroy Leeds’ passing game by relentlessly pressing and pouncing upon subsequent mistakes to launch counter-attacks through the pace of Junior Hoilett and Kadeem Harris.
Furthermore, whilst Leeds are collectively very strong, when individuals are put under pressure, the team can begin to unwind a little. City should look to win individual battles if they are to disrupt any rhythm Leeds look to settle into; the harrying and hassling of Aron Gunarsson and Ralls will be key.
Leeds are also susceptible at defending crosses as their centre-backs are often drawn to the ball rather than being concerned with marking. Indeed, this was how theyconceded the first goal against David Wagner’s high-flying Terriers last time out. First time crosses and balls whipped in from set pieces have the ability to trouble Leeds’ defence.
Cardiff lost 2-0 against Leeds earlier in the season in a match where the Bluebirds actually looked the better side during Paul Trollope’s tenure. However, as was so often the case, their efforts brought little reward and the manager was dismissed a matter of weeks later.
This might be a defining moment in Warnock’s time at the club. If his players prove they have the potential and character to stand toe to toe with a play-off contender away from home, then he might be convinced to extend his contract for another year.
Warnock has stated he wants to take a club to the Premier League one more time before he retires and will only continue at Cardiff if such ambition is reciprocated.
With Leeds so dominant at home this season, it is hard to see City getting much out of the game, but the Bluebirds have more than enough determination and quality to snatch a point.
Let’s be optimistic and go for a 1-1.