Leeds United malaise needs snapping and Farke may need to bruise another ego

Daniel Farke has more decisions to make for Leeds United against Norwich City -Credit:Stephen Pond/Getty Images
Daniel Farke has more decisions to make for Leeds United against Norwich City -Credit:Stephen Pond/Getty Images

Thursday’s second leg between Leeds United and Norwich City is neatly poised. At 0-0, everything is still to play for across both sides, who demonstrated enough on Sunday to suggest widespread changes are not needed.

The line-ups had the measure of one another, with neither goalkeeper especially stretched and that extra five per cent needed to unlock doors left alone for fear of leaving the back door open. The first leg was a positive step forward for Leeds, back towards the solidity and security of their best clean-sheet runs.

After conceding nine in their last three outings, a Norwich blank was good for everyone’s confidence. Despite his distribution defects, Illan Meslier remains a better option than Karl Darlow between the sticks.

READ MORE: 'World class' - Illan Meslier verdict from Daniel Farke defends Leeds United performance

There is no sense in dropping a back-up stopper with no minutes in 2024 into a play-off semi-final second leg. Connor Roberts, who wasn’t able to add to his limited recent minutes at Carrow Road, remains a temptation at right-back.

After a dodgy early header back to Meslier, Sam Byram did settle down to become a very tidy performer for Leeds in Norfolk. The 30-year-old made some crucial tackles, including a last-gasp stop on a goal-bound Borja Sainz, and got forward to useful effect too, even if he did land an air kick from a good spot inside the box.

Junior Firpo was steady at left-back with his attacking instincts outweighing any defensive fragility at Carrow Road. The Dominican weighed up his forays well and just about kept Jack Stacey quiet when he roamed forward from right-back.

The central axis of Ilia Gruev-Glen Kamara-Archie Gray was a first for this season and a bold decision by Farke in such an important game, but it worked. Leeds need to go through more of their gears on Thursday, but not at the risk of gifting Norwich an advantage at Elland Road.

Retaining this core, which Gray can bring some attacking flair to, feels important. Even as an 87th-minute addition, Daniel James quickly showed why he has been such a livewire this season.

Tiring Canaries did not want to see the jet-heeled winger entering the fray so late. Sadly, he has trained so little he is not a realistic starter for Farke on Thursday. Wilfried Gnonto will be trusted to add some quality to the pace we have seen in recent weeks.

The biggest debate has to be had at the tip of the attack. Georginio Rutter has looked out of sorts since his hernia surgery during the international break, but there has seemingly been no alternative to take the Frenchman out of the firing line.

Gray’s inclusion on Sunday showed there was now a different option for Farke in the hole. Rutter’s move to the head of the attack might have been the change he needed to snap out of this malaise, but he again failed to make an impression on a Leeds game.

With Patrick Bamford already ruled out, the alternatives are Joel Piroe or Mateo Joseph. Every decision Farke has made this season would suggest Joseph has no chance of starting on Thursday.

Sunday was departure enough from the norm for the manager, to then partner the 18-year-old with a 20-year-old seems anathema to Farke. It’s surely going to come down to Rutter or Piroe.

The former, on the paper, should have had the pace and mobility to hurt Norwich’s ageing centre-backs, but they were comfortable. Perhaps Piroe, at least with two goals since the start of April, might edge out French flair needing a reset.

It might hurt Rutter's ego, but Piroe took his benching, after scoring against Southampton, on the chin and sucked it up for the team.