We spoke to Leon Wobschall, of the Yorkshire Post, ahead of the Owls’ clash with Leeds United at Hillsborough tomorrow. Here’s what he told us about the Championship table-toppers.
Leeds United are top of the table. Who have been the key players in their rise?
It is a tribute to the seismic impact made by Marcelo Bielsa that you can pinpoint any number of players really and everyone has put their hand up at certain junctures. The likes of Mateusz Klich, frozen out for most of last season, has enjoyed a sterling renaissance alongside Kalvin Phillips, which is tribute to Bielsa's ability to improve players. But in terms of United's main men, it is impossible to ignore Samuel Saiz, who has proved an attacking talisman in the same way as Barry Bannan has at Hillsborough. Crucially, he has married a work ethic with his class and craft on the ball and has been one of the stand-out players of the Championship season so far. The strong running, movement and pace of Kemar Roofe has flourished under Bielsa's system. Pablo Hernandez has been influential as well.
Leeds have started well before but then faded. Are they here to stay this time?
Time will tell, but the fact that they are coping not too badly with the injury absences of the likes of Roofe, Hernandez and Patrick Bamford would suggest they have much more stamina and longevity this time. While Leeds have hit the heights with some barnstorming displays, they have also dug deep when the going has been tougher on occasions to chisel out hard-fought away draws at Swansea and Millwall. They also stood firm in the wake of a big physical examination at home to Middlesbrough. Those factors would suggest that United are better prepared to cope with the rigours of the Championship, although their reaction on Friday to last weekend's disappointing home loss to Birmingham City will be interesting.
What are the main factors behind new manager Marcelo Bielsa's success?
It is clear that the players have all bought into his visionary coaching methods and are also slightly in awe of him . His managerial CV speaks to itself and the work of the Argentine and his coaching staff has proved enlightening to a number of players, who have been energised and revitalised by his methods. The players have also bought into Bielsa's high demands and look extremely fit. They are spending a lot more time on the training ground, but are clearly thoroughly enjoying it. Early wins also help in buying into a footballing philosophy, it must be said.
How would you describe Leeds' style of play?
Bielsa's footballing ethos relies on non-stop energy, pace and incisive passing. It is an attractive attacking style which allows players to express themselves. Bielsa's system - with his favoured 3-3-1-3 having been employed on several occasions - relies on quick transitions between the defensive and attacking phases and it is extremely pleasing on the eye when executed well.
Can you tell us Leeds' biggest strength and their main weakness?
Leeds' biggest strength is their fluid attacking midfield triumvirate behind their central striker. On form, they are as good as anything in the Championship and the heartbeat of the team. Saiz and particularly Hernandez dovetailed superbly at the start of the season, with Alioski not too far behind. Now Jack Harrison has been handed a chance with Hernandez injured. That said, Leeds' creative three were stymied against Birmingham on Saturday. There are too many question marks so far this season, although the rookie Championship status of Bailey Peacock-Farrell is still apparent. The 21-year-old started the season impressively, but suffered a reality check in making a costly mistake in last weekend's loss.
Finally, what's your prediction for Friday's clash?
I will go for an entertaining 2-2 draw. It has all the portents to be a cracker and the battle between Bannan and Saiz is worth the admission money alone. Wednesday have shown that they can score goals as well as concede them and Leeds have shown attacking verve on the road while giving teams a chance on occasions.