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There were a few raised eyebrows when Garry Monk was appointed Leeds United manager in the summer.
On one hand it was encouraging to see one of Britain’s sleeping giants giving a young manager a chance but then the job at Leeds was a bit of a poisoned chalice and it was seen as a career suicide for Monk to go there.
Prior to Monk’s appointment, six different managers had tried their hand at Elland Road in just three and a half years. The trend looked set to continue too.
There had been reports that Massimo Cellino, the owner of Leeds at the time, wanted to sack Monk after just two matches in charge and by the time the team hosted Blackburn Rovers in the middle of October he was odds-on favourite to be the next manager sacked. The 2-1 win against Blackburn was Monk’s second win in seven Championship matches and the patience of the owner was wearing thin.
However, the win seemed to kickstart their season. Following on from the match against Blackburn they won six of the next nine games. It gave Monk some breathing space and he made the most of it.
Since the defeat to Derby on the 15 October they have only lost two of their 14 matches. A 2-0 loss at home against Newcastle before falling to the same scoreline away to Brighton. The Championship’s top two.
It’s a run which has seen them climb up the table and they now sit in third position just seven points off of Newcastle in top spot. If the form continues and they’re able to grind out results a return to the Premier League is very much on the cards to the surprise of many.
That isn’t the biggest shock of all thought.
Leeds United's new part owner Andrea Radrizzani has claimed he wants to offer Monk an extended deal to ensure he’s around for the foreseeable future by saying “It's our intention to continue this marriage”.
A Remarkable Turnaround
How has Monk gone from being the favourite to be sacked to challenging for promotion in the space of just six months?
The summer transfer window saw a lot of upheaval at the club. They were active in the market and secured two big deals in the form of attacking midfielder Kemar Roofe, who signed for £3million from Oxford United, and Swedish striker Marcus Antonsson, who arrived at Elland Road from Kalmaar FF for £2million.
Monk also brought in Luke Ayling from Bristol City, Eunan O’Kane from Bournemouth and goalkeeper Robert Green joined on a free transfer from QPR. The manager also made use of the loan market by landing Hadi Sacko from Sporting Lisbon, Kyle Bartley from Swansea City, Pontus Jansson from Torino and Pablo Hernandez (who signed has now signed permanently) from Al-Arabi.
One of the biggest deals for the club though was managing to keep hold of in demand left-back Charlie Taylor. The defender’s current deal expires in the summer and he put in a transfer request but Monk rejected it and the club backed him which in itself was a statement of intent. After all, for many years they’d been labelled a selling club.
Seven of the 10 players with most minutes played this season were signed in the summer. That shows just how much change there has been at the club in such a short space of time and just exactly why patience was required to begin with.
His players are now doing the job.
What’s Changed at Leeds?
The obvious answer here would be to say the owner no longer has an itchy trigger finger. That of course plays a part and relieves some of the pressure off of Monk. But looking at things from an on field point of view, it’s easy to see why they’re picking up more points.
They’ve won 48 points in the 26 league games they’ve played this season. On average they’ve scored 1.3 goals per games and conceding just the 0.92 and they’ve managed to keep 10 clean sheets in total.
Last season they finished in 13th position with 59 points. They kept eight clean sheets in total – meaning they’ve bettered that total with 20 games still to play. On average they scored 1.08 goals but conceded 1.2 goals per game.
Not only are they scoring more this season they’re also conceding less.
What’s interesting to note though is that the team are making the most of set pieces this time around and 10 of their 35 goals have come from dead-ball situations.
If you’re conceding on average less than a goal a game and you’re scoring a goal via a set piece every two and a half games it means you’re effectively guaranteed a minimum of a point in at least 18 of the matches throughout the season. Set-pieces seem to be an undervalued part of the modern game.
Monk's Impact on Chris Wood
Leeds paid Leicester City a reported £3million to secure the services of Chris Wood ahead of the 2015/16 season. He was tasked with scoring goals for the club but it by no means a guarantee. Before the move to Elland Road the striker’s most prolific season was 2012/13 when he spent time on loan at Millwall before moving to Leicester. He finished the season with a total of 20 goals with 11 of those coming for the latter.
His most most prolific season for a single club was his debut one for Leeds in which he netted 13. But the 25-year-old already has 14 this season and doesn’t look like he’s finished by a long shot. If Monk keeps playing to his strengths then he could be the key player in getting them promoted.
It's something that often gets lost in the modern game but Monk recruited with a clear system in mind. Leeds tend to play the 4231 system and it requires certain player profiles if it's to really function effectively. He signed pace and he signed goal threats to go behind the striker. He recruited midfielders who know their job is to protect the back four. It's all about the balance of the team and Monk has managed to find it.