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“I’m worried about Lee Cattermole!” - Leeds fan speaks ahead of this weekend’s massive clash

Giving us the Leeds lowdown is Jon Mackenzie, host of podcast A Team Of John O’Sheas and contributor to United fanzine The Square Ball. As well as previewing the game, Jon gives his opinion on the new regime at Elland Road, the impending departure of Chris Wood and how he thinks Simon Grayson will fare on Wearside.

Dan Abbott

RF: I know it's never quiet at Elland Road but this summer brought new owners and a new manager after Garry Monk didn't extend his deal. Whats the early opinions on Thomas Christiansen and the new regime? Can he build upon the work Monk started?

To be honest with you, the jury is still out on Thomas Christiansen. There has been such a sea change over the summer at Leeds that we're going to need to see more than four matches before we make any real judgements. Let's not forget that Garry Monk's Leeds team took six games before they really got going in the league last season. In the light of the first two games, the 3-2 win away to Bolton and the 4-1 EFL Cup win against Port Vale, everyone had been predicting a 'lots-of-goals-at-both-ends' kind of season but two nil-nil draws later and no one really knows what to expect.

As for the work that Monk started, I would apply the same caveat: there has been so much infrastructure and development that it's hard to know what continuity there will be. We've got a new owner, a new manager, a new director of football and half a new squad. Certainly we are persevering with the 4-2-3-1 experiment that Monk implemented, despite Christiansen's reliance on 4-4-2 at APOEL last season. Beyond this, there are hints that the problems of transition which rumbled on throughout the last season are being ironed out somewhat with Christiansen encouraging on a more direct attacking approach particularly through central areas. And yet we still have a threadbare back four which has already taken a hit in the last few fixtures and is giving the manager a headache.

Birmingham City v Leeds United - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

RF: What style of play is Christiansen implementing? So far this season, Sunderland have looked handy against possession based sides so please say he absolutely loves keeping the ball.

As I've mentioned, the team lines up in a 4-2-3-1 and attempts to to break down the opposition through balls played on the floor through central areas. Pablo Hernandez, understandably, is thriving in this sort of system and is handsomely (in both senses of the term) deputised by new signing Samu Saiz from the Spanish Segunda. With two dynamic wide players in Ezgjan Alioski and Kemar Roofe, I would suggest that you should be more worried about rapid counter-attacking play than anything like patient build-up. The one saving grace in this regard is that this new look Leeds United hardly suits the skill set of last season's 30-goal-wonder Chris Wood for whom the cute through-ball isn't quite as appealing as the square ball from the byline.

RF: You mentioned Chris Wood there and Burnley certainly don't look like giving up on him. Whats the feeling on his potential departure? Would he leave with the fans best wishes or will be you be pretty pissed off about it?

I should be honest from the off and admit that I am in no sense a purveyor of the Chris Wood phenomenon. Last season, we relied on him too much for goals which simultaneously contributed to us over-performing somewhat but also played into our now-famous collapse at the end of the season. Now whilst it is too early to make any definitive judgments at this point, I suspect that Wood isn't really suited to Christiansen's rapid transitional style and so, as a result, I wouldn't be too disappointed to see him go.

Leeds United v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Where the worry comes is in finding a replacement so late in the window. That said, I have been impressed by the transfer strategy of Victor Orta, our new director of football, and so, I would hope that they have a replacement in the pipeline, most likely from the European market rather than the British.

RF: What's the main aim for Leeds this season? Promotion at all costs or would making the play offs suffice after narrowly missing out last season?

You have more optimism than me! I've predicted a final position around 8th place. Of course, I would take a play off place (who wouldn't?) but I think the main aim this season is to attain some kind of much needed stability. I think Sunderland fans will know exactly what I'm talking about...

It's been a while since we managed consecutive top half of the table finishes (you actually have to go back to our time in League One for that) and so, given the fact that there are so many variables at play this season, I would be happy with that.

RF: Simon Grayson is impressing on Wearside with his positivity and the way he's got the team working their socks off. Given he was at Leeds for a while, what else can we expect from him and do you think Sunderland have made a shrewd decision appointing him?

Ah Larry, what a man. During his time at Leeds, Grayson was quietly brilliant. He earned us one promotion and was so close to getting us into the play offs for another, all at a time when the wheels had come off a little.

Of course, with Agent Grayson at the helm, you'll be nervous whenever you play us because his teams have a funny way of always losing to us - make of that what you will!

Bury v Sunderland - Carabao Cup First Round Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

As I think you've already alluded, Larry will do all of the base-level things right: he'll not allow the team to be under any illusion as to how difficult the Championship is; he'll push them in training so that they are fully prepared for every fixture; and he will restore a much-needed level-headedness to a lot of your players who probably need it right now. What you won't get is anything like flair. But flair doesn't always get you out of the Championship and a little bit of esprit de corps can get you a long way. Just ask David Wagner.

RF: Is there anyone in the Sunderland side that you're particularly worried about, going into the game?

Well I've been worried about Lee Cattermole for quite a while now but I think you mean worried in a different sense?

I have always had a bit of a thing for Didier Ndong ever since I first saw him playing in the Africa Cup of Nations in 2015. Whilst it is hardly meaningful given the season you had, I thought he was easily one of your better players last year and I'm looking forward to seeing how he performs in the Championship. I have very little doubt that he will cause our double pivot all sorts of problems if he plays to his potential.

RF: On that note, who should Sunderland fans be keeping their eye on?

Depending on who we play in the attacking three, you should keep your eye on two of our new signings: Ezgjan Alioski (just call him Gianni) and Samu Sazi (who hit that belter of a hattrick in the EFL Cup a couple of weeks back).

Leeds United v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Alioski is a wide midfielder who possesses explosive pace and wills his way around opposition players. Saiz comes in the mould of Pablo Hernandez and will ghost his way through your defensive line if you don't give him all of your attention. Both of them are exciting to watch in their own way.

RF: To finish off, what do you expect the starting XI to be and give us a score prediction as well?

It's hard to say what the starting XI will be at the weekend. With the midweek game clogging up the fixtures already this season, Thomas Christiansen may want to rest players. He also has an injury crisis in his defensive line to contend with. If he plays his strongest available XI he will go for:

Felix Wiedwald; Luke Ayling, Conor Shaughnessy, Pontus Jansson, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson; Kalvin Phillips, Eunan O'Kane; Ezgjan Alioski, Pablo Hernandez, Kemar Roofe; Chris Wood

As for a score prediction, I can't see us going another game without scoring but I can't see us going another game without conceding. Given the last few results for both sides, I don't expect there to be many goals though so I'll plump for the unimaginative option of a 1-1 draw.


You can check out A Team Of John O’Sheas on their website (or wherever you get you podcasts) and follow Jon on Twitter.