Javi Gracia’s first month at Elland Road has been nothing short of hectic. The Spaniard has overseen five Leeds United games so far, including one FA Cup tie, and with plenty riding on all of them, each game has been filled with emotion.
However, he has managed to make a positive impression, earning seven points and helping the club up to 14th in the Premier League table and away from the drop zone heading into the March international break. Gracia might afford himself a moment or two to reflect on the opening few weeks of his time at Leeds over the coming days, but he knows he still has plenty of work to do and he’ll be keen to make even more of a mark at Thorp Arch before Leeds’ next outing at Arsenal on April 1.
Here’s a look at just some of the tasks Gracia is faced with over the international break.
Read more: Javi Gracia sets Leeds United Thorp Arch target after playing Rodrigo trump card at Wolves
There’s no doubt about it, Gracia has made an immediate impact at Elland Road with wins over Southampton and Wolves bolstering the confidence and positivity around the club. It felt as though Leeds were staring down the barrel of relegation after defeats to Nottingham Forest and Everton in February, but Gracia has managed to find traction and halt the Whites’ slide.
As such, things are looking up right now as the head coach sends a handful of players off on international duty. But, he cannot allow the two-week break without a game to kill the club’s momentum as they prepare for the final 11 games of the Premier League campaign.
The trip to league leaders Arsenal next month is set to be a challenging one, but home games against Nottingham Forest and Crystal Palace on April 4 and 9 provide opportunities Leeds must make the most of. As such, while rest is a necessity at this point of the season, Gracia must also strive to keep his squad ticking over at Thorp Arch with intense and competitive sessions.
Get Rodrigo firing on all cylinders
The way Rodrigo took his goal at Molineux on Saturday underlined just how important he is to the Whites push for survival. The striker had a quiet game against Wolves after stepping off the bench, but he was on hand to produce a composed and delicate finish when Leeds needed him most, making sure of the points.
The Spain international missed six Premier League games through injury, a stint that coincided with a goal drought for the Whites, but he’s back in the fold now and could make a huge impact over the coming weeks and months. As such, Gracia will be keen to work on Rodrigo’s fitness in training during the international break and get him back into the starting line-up.
Find a role for Rutter
Georginio Rutter’s name has cropped up in Gracia press conferences on a regular basis so far, with reporters keen to know his plan to bring the best out of the club record transfer. The forward has started just one Premier League game since his January move from Hoffenheim and he has struggled to make his mark and get his foot in the door under Jesse Marsch, Michael Skubala and now Gracia.
The head coach has spoken about his ability to play as one half of a forward pair, but given the head coach has favoured a 4-2-3-1 formation so far, it’s been hard to find a suitable role for him and he didn’t get on at all at Wolves over the weekend. As such, he will be keen to find a way of fitting Rutter into his plans, though, and he’ll be attempting to help the 20-year-old to settle into both his system and the English game.
Build on defensive strides
Gracia spoke about getting the balance right at Elland Road when he first arrived at the club. That meant shoring things up defensively without having a negative impact on the club’s capabilities going forward.
Now, the Whites may have conceded four goals in their last two games, but it’s clear to see they have made significant improvements defensively, with Robin Koch and Max Wober building up a fine partnership in the heart of the backline, while Luke Ayling and Junior Firpo impress on a regular basis. Making Leeds tough to break down could be the key to survival and he’s well on his way to doing that.
However, there is still progress to be made if Leeds are to make a habit of keeping clean sheets and although Wober is away on international duty with Austria, continuing his work on defensive shape and structure may be high on his list of priorities.
Work on the midfield
Right now, Leeds are probably weakest in the middle of the park. The Whites have struggled to take control of games in recent weeks with Weston McKennie and Marc Roca finding form hard to come by as part of a midfield two.
Tyler Adams was missing last time out against Wolves and his battling presence was probably missed, but more is needed from McKennie and Roca over the remaining 11 games of the season. As such, while McKennie is away with the USA, Gracia will be working hard with Roca to mould him into the player Leeds need in the middle.
Gracia may have been keen on spending some one-on-one time with Brenden Aaronson, too, who has featured regularly during his tenure, too. However, the attacking midfielder is also away on international duty with the US with CONCACAF Nations League games to play against Grenada and El Salvador.
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