I dare say many Leeds United fans aren’t too bothered about the League Cup this season but it’s still gutting going out after the fight back. Marcelo Bielsa made eight changes to the team that beat Stoke at the weekend and while Nathan Jones made nine changes to his Stoke side it looked a much stronger line-up than the one Leeds put three goals past. The gap in experience, and lack of a recognised centre back for Leeds, showed in the first half as Stoke went into the break with a two-goal lead.
Marcelo Bielsa made three changes at half time bringing on White, Harrison and Forshaw and the impact was immediate. Leeds dominated the second half and levelled the scores with goals from Nketiah and Costa and were unfortunate not to take the lead. With the scores level at full time the game went to penalties, Jack Harrison being the unfortunate one to miss the final penalty sending Stoke through to the next round. Harrison’s name rang round Elland Road as the crowd showed him their support. A great response from Leeds in the second half but Tuesday night’s performance raise any questions?
Do we have enough strength in depth defensively?
The main issue on Tuesday night was us allowing Stoke into areas to play the ball into Vokes in the first half. A fairly short back three featuring no recognised centre backs, protected by wing-backs was always likely to draw pressure from a decent looking Stoke attacking line-up. So far this season Leeds have hardly any successful passes (or crosses) be played into their box. On Tuesday night plenty of balls were delivered into the box and Vokes was lively enough to get onto them. The introduction of the impressive Ben White into defence secured things and the dominant Adam Forshaw in midfield gave Leeds control of the ball.
Whilst generally our squad players have impressed this year and should be able to step into the first team, provided we don’t get 7 or 8 injuries, it does highlight the weaknesses in several areas. Davis is a good player but a little lightweight for a back three, he is much better out wide. Phillips is wasted in defence and the difference to the team’s performance when he moves to defensive midfield is stark. It’s also interesting to see Bielsa’s reluctance to play Struijk, is he not considered good enough yet? If not we may not have the strength in depth required for a whole campaign.
Does winning breed confidence?
The other niggle over Tuesdays defeat is that it completely replicates last year's start with 13 points from 5 matches and going out of the cup, unexpectedly, at this stage. We then went on a bit of a bad run, points wise, with 1 win and 3 draws from the next 5 matches. Winning breeds confidence and you get used to winning and whilst we said it wouldn't affect confidence last season, and maybe it didn't, it perhaps gave opposition managers a chance to see weaknesses. Important for this squad to show mental toughness now and bounce back and hopefully the manner of the second half performance will help with that. We didn’t lose within the 90 minutes after all.
Will the fringe players get the opportunities?
Now that Leeds have been knocked out of the League Cup, will Bielsa be able to find game time for some of the fringe players? One player who stands out is Jack Clarke. The 19 year old has not even managed to find a place on the bench in recent games due to the limit on loan players in the squad. When he has been given opportunities, he has not impressed and looks a shadow of the player he was when he first broke through last season. He was also substituted at half time on Tuesday. Does the transfer fee we got from Spurs now look like a really good bit of business? With opportunities for Clarke seemingly limited at Leeds will Spurs be happy? Who would mind if Clarke was recalled, and snapped up on loan by one of Leeds rivals?
Does Tuesday's League Cup defeat to Stoke raise questions?