Tuesday September 26th. 7.40pm. Cardiff City Stadium. A time when Leeds United were top of the Championship for the first time in 13 years.
But the joy quickly faded. A red card, defensive errors and a 3-0 defeat meant Leeds were off top. What has followed in the two months since hasn't made for pretty watching.
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From the best start as a Leeds boss after nine games, Thomas Christiansen now finds himself with some serious questions to answer. His side have failed to stop a slide of six defeats in seven games, slipping to 10th in the table. Up next? Middlesbrough managed by Garry Monk, a man no longer too popular at Elland Road after his acrimonious departure in the summer.
So what's gone wrong for Monk's replacement at Leeds? Why have Christiansen's side slipped down the league? We look at the numbers…
A false dawn?
Leeds have won seven games this season. But just three of those sides are in the top half of the table right now. There was the 3-0 win at Bristol City, an exceptional performance against a side tricky to beat on their own turf and also a 3-2 success over Ipswich, but take a closer look at the other victories.
The sides currently occupying the bottom four spots in the table, Sunderland, Bolton, Birmingham and Bolton, were all dispatched. The other win came against Nottingham Forest. And although they are now above Leeds, ninth in the table, that was the start of a run that saw Mark Warburton's team lose five out of six league games.
Even Leeds' two draws came against Preston and Fulham, teams currently 14th and 17th. Early results raised optimism among an expectant fanbase, but perhaps above a level this side is currently capable of achieving.
The majority of Leeds' wins this season may have come against some of the division's lower sides, but there's no doubting the quality of those early performances. Nigel Clough's Burton side were destroyed 5-0 at Elland Road and the losing manager was gracious enough to admit the opposition were one of the best teams Burton had faced since promotion. High praise indeed.
And Leeds did it with a swagger too, a fast-paced short passing style, playing out from the back and with a front four providing fluidity and movement rarely seen at Elland Road in the last 14 years. But as Leeds' form has dipped, so has the style. The stats seem to back that up.
|First nine games||Last seven games|
|% of passes short/long||83.02%/16.98%||78.97/21.03%|
|Completed short passes per game (own half)||297||242.4|
|Completed short passes per game (opp half)||157.3||134|
Leeds have attempted less short passes in the last seven games compared to the first nine, at a swing of around four per cent. And then look at the difference in the quality of the short passing in both halves, a trait that became a trademark of the first nine games of Christiansen's reign.
Christiansen had faith in new arrival Felix Wiedwald, the German signed from Werder Bremen, after Rob Green departed in the summer, and the early signs were good. He kept six Championship clean sheets in a row and provided a significant contribution to Leeds' new style, playing out from the back and building attacks.
But there were a few nervy moments in there. Eyebrows were raised at Bolton as Gary Madine scored from a corner. Mistakes then followed against Ipswich and at Hillsborough, when Leeds were demolished by Sheffield Wednesday.
Christiansen acted quickly after the international break, axing his No 1 and installing Andy Lonergan, who returned to the club this summer. Lonergan took his second chance initially, making some stunning saves against Sheffield United and generally keeping his credit as Leeds' form slumped. But that changed against Brentford last time out. Lonergan inexplicably dropped a cross at the feet of Neal Maupay for the first goal and could have done better with Yoann Barbet's free-kick that crept into the bottom corner for the second.
So where does Christiansen go from here? He's changed his goalkeeper and that's brought a change in style.
|Felix Wiedwald||Andy Lonergan|
|Av. passes per game||35.8||34.5|
|% passes short/long||45/55||15/85|
As you can see, 85 per cent of the time Lonergan goes long, which is far more than Wiedwald. If Leeds are to reinstate the passing football that served them so well before, they need to go back to a goalkeeper who looked bereft of confidence and struggled to adapt to the physicality of the Championship, especially at setpieces.
Issues up top
Replacing Chris Wood was always going to be a difficult task, especially after selling him so late in the transfer window. The man given the task of firing Leeds back to the Premier League was Pierre-Michel Lasogga, a loan signing from Hamburg who had struggled in the previous season with injury.
It's been a mixed bag for the German striker so far. There's no doubting he can score goals. He's Leeds' joint-top scorer in the league with five and scored a brilliant brace on his debut against Burton. But does he do enough?
Touches per game - top three forwards in Championship (5+ games)
|Ollie Watkins (Brentford) - 60|
|Sone Aluko (Reading) - 53|
|Jamie Paterson (Bristol City) - 52|
|Lasogga - 25|
Touches in opposition box per game - top three in Championship (5+ games)
|Sean Maguire (Preston) - 6.8|
|Ollie Watkins (Brentford) - 6.4|
|Floyd Ayite (Fulham) - 5.9|
|Lasogga - 3.4|
In terms of touches per game, Lasogga is way below the rest of the division, with Brentford's Ollie Watkins, Reading's Sone Aluko and Bristol City's Jamie Paterson averaging the most. Lasogga is a whole 27 touches per game lower than the top three.
It's the same story when it comes to touches in the opposition box. The striker leading the rankings there - Preston's Sean Maguire - has double the amount of touches in the opposition area per game than Lasogga. Leeds actually went two games, against Sheffield Wednesday and Reading. where their No 10, Samuel Saiz, failed to find Lasogga with a single pass. Clearly Leeds aren't hitting their front man with the ball enough in the right areas.
Lack of resolve
Confidence is undoubtedly in short supply at Elland Road at the moment, but is there a wider problem for Leeds when they go behind?
Leeds are joint-bottom for fewest points recovered for any ever-present side in the Championship since the start of last season. It was a problem Garry Monk's side encountered in the run-in and, ultimately, in their failure to secure a play-off place. Christiansen seems to have inherited it.
Fewest points won from losing positions since August 2016 (ever-present sides)
|Norwich - 9|
|Aston Villa - 8|
|Leeds - 8|
The last time Leeds won from a losing position? November 5 last year, when Ronaldo Vieira secured a 3-2 win over Norwich. In total, Leeds have conceded the first goal in six Championship matches this season, losing all six. They need to find a way to win when behind if they're to achieve anything this season.
So plenty for Christiansen and Leeds to ponder. Will it be the sight of a former manager that spurs them into life? Will they find the answer to a few of the problems that have surfaced in their recent form? We'll find out on Sunday.
Don't miss the Sky Bet Championship clash between Leeds and Middlesbrough on Sunday, live on Sky Sports Football and Sky Sports Main Event from 1pm