Match of the Day pundit raves about what Javi Gracia changed in Leeds win as Sky Sports man hails ‘outstanding’ Whites star

Newly appointed manager of Leeds United Javi Gracia gestures and reacts during the Premier League match Leeds United vs Southampton at Elland Road, Leeds

Leeds United manager Javi Gracia deserves praise for the way he instantly and positively tweaked the Whites formation as they club earned a much-needed 1-0 Premier League win over Southampton at Elland Road.

The West Yorkshire side have turned to the Spanish coach as a successor to Jesse Marsch until the end of the season. The American was fired after a bleak run of form that saw Leeds pick up just two wins in 17 Premier League games.

And while his removal sparked improvement in games against Manchester United, Leeds slipped into the relegation zone following a 1-0 defeat at Everton the previous weekend.

As such, former Watford boss Gracia has been put in charge on an initial deal until the summer. At that stage, Leeds will know whether their battle for survival is a successful one. And if they do retain their Premier League status, then that could open the possibility of the club landing one of their first-choice managerial picks.

Perversely, though, if he does steer Leeds to safety, then the job will surely be his to lose. As a result, trusted journalist Ben Jacobs told TEAMtalk about the summer paradox facing Leeds United, and insists the club are keeping an open mind.

At least Gracia, though, is off to a winning start – and for now, that is all that matters to Leeds.

The 1-0 win over Saints, courtesy of a rare Junior Firpo goal, lifted Leeds up to 16th in the table.

And analysing the performance, Gary Lineker and Micah Richards praised the former Barcelona man.

READ MOREJavi Gracia pinpoints key ‘difference’ after kickstarting Leeds Utd reign with crucial three points to end winless run

Micah Richards pleased with Leeds United width in Saints win

However, Richards was also impressed with the tactical tweak enforced by their new manager. And rather than play narrowly through the middle, condensing the space, Leeds instead opted to utilise the entire width of the pitch.

Lineker said of Richards on Match of the Day: “Started as a forward, went slowly back, ended up as a full-back. Ring any bells, Micah?”

Laughing with his reply, Richards responded: “Shall I go home now?”

Lineker then said: “Funnily enough he referred to the manager asking for more crosses and that’s exactly what you’ve picked up on.”

Richards continued: “Yes, I just think Leeds always have the energy, they always have the desire. But I thought today [Saturday] they used the width really, really well.”

Firpo wasn’t the only Leeds player to receive praise, however.

McKennie earns praise for Leeds display

And the display by Weston McKennie in the middle of the park also earned lots of admiration.

Time and again he broke up the Southampton attacks and also managed to get Leeds on the front foot on several occasions.

That drew admiration from Sky Sports pundit Clinton Morrison, who hailed the performance of the USA midfielder.

“He’s been outstanding for them in midfield. He wins the ball back, they press ever so high, that’s what Gracia’s team does.”

Morrison, though, did feel McKennie spurned a great chance to score when Leeds advanced on the Saints penalty area.

“He’s in, it’s two on one, but the defender is there. He tries to play it to Aaronson and he plays it too early. He should go himself and then he has a great opportunity.”

McKennie signed for Leeds in an initial loan move from Juventus. Leeds have the option to make the move permanent. However, that is entirely dependent on Leeds staying in the Premier League.

That performance on Saturday was comfortably his best performance in a Whites shirt. And more games like that will increase the chances of not just Leeds securing survival, but also of the player securing that permanent summer move.

READ MORE ~ Exclusive: Leeds Utd planning to sign league’s second top scorer regardless of whether they’re relegated