Leeds United manager Javi Gracia is adamant his side have the belief, passion and fight required to stay in the Premier League – but admits they need to show a “much better face” than they did against Liverpool on Monday.
Having put themselves in with a solid chance of pushing towards mid-table with a win over Nottingham Forest earlier this month, Leeds’ season has since come crashing back down. Indeed, crushing home defeats to Crystal Palace and then Liverpool have plunged the Whites right back into the relegation mix.
Worse still, their goal difference has taken an almighty battering with the club shipping 16 goals in their four games this month.
That has ebbed away at one of their advantages over their rivals and similtaneously shredded confidence to boot.
Next on the agenda is a trip to Fulham. And Gracia knows Leeds need to give a much better account of themselves at Craven Cottage.
However, speaking in a press conference to preview the game, he is adamant his players have what it takes.
“What I’ve seen is all my players really disappointed after the last game,” he said. “They have the desire to change, to perform better and to look forward to the next game. We hope to show a better face.”
Having lost 11 goals, including a humiliating six against Liverpool, Gracia’s first port of call will surely be to tighten up at the back.
“It’s something I’ve tried to improve from my arrival,” he said. “We need to find the balance to compete and get better results. It’s unacceptable for us and we’re working on it, trying to improve.”
Question marks have also been raised over the form of Illan Meslier.
Meslier likely to retain Leeds place
At one stage, the France U21 keeper had let in 10 goals from the last 10 shots he had faced on goal before finally making a save.
But amid suggestions he could face the axe, Gracia indicated he is ready to stand by him: “If we’ve conceded 11 goals in the last two games, it’s not because of the goalkeeper.”
Leeds’ lack of fight and passion was also in seemingly in evidence on Monday night at Elland Road.
Gracia, though, is adamant his players are giving their all.
“No, but I can understand the supporters. Some parts in the last game and the one before against Palace, there were some moments where you could have that feeling. But I have to defend my players because I know they tried. Sometimes these moments are difficult to manage.”
Injury updates on Adams, Wober, Gnonto and Bamford
Leeds have badly missed Tyler Adams’ calming presence in midfield. He underwent surgery on a hamstring injury just before the international break. And there remains concerns if he will feature for Leeds again this season.
Providing an update on his situation, Gracia was uncertain whether he would be seen again.
However, he does admit he has been a major loss.
“He’s working hard [to get fit], but we need time,” he commented.
“He’s a player who we can’t replace very well. We have Adam Forshaw but he was injured long-term. It’s an absence in an important position. There’s some young players in there that are good, but we don’t have a solution for that. We work with the players we have, very good players.”
One man who could be fit to return to the starting line-up though is Max Wober. The Austrian’s leadership qualities have been much missed during his recent absence from the side.
He was back on the bench to face Liverpool and may well return to the side at Fulham.
“When he was available, he played as a centre-back with Robin [Koch] in the middle and he had very good performances. He was injured over the last two weeks. He was available for the last game but he’d only trained one or two games. But he’s in a better condition now.”
Bamford, however, looks a doubt after missing out against Jurgen Klopp’s side.
“We’ll wait until the end, not sure if he’ll be ready. He has a calf problem.”
Willy Gnonto is another player who could return to the starting line-up.
Discussing his situation, Gracia added: “Gnonto is ready. He had a little issue, he had some problem, now he’s ready. He’s training from the last few weeks. I tried to protect him a little bit and now he’s available.”