How do you solve a problem like Casilla?
When Real Madrid goalkeeper Kiko Casilla arrived at Elland Road twelve months ago, he was seen as the solution to their goalkeeping issues. For the first half of the season, the Whites had relied on inexperienced youngster Bailey Peacock-Farrell and many felt, despite their lofty league position, that they had a glaring weak spot in their team.
His arrival was met with great fanfare. A 32-year-old signing on a four and a half year deal worth a reported £35,000 a week was not to be sniffed at. Spanish journalist Guillem Balague at the time claimed: "He could have been a regular in one of the top five teams in Spain,” yet now, twelve months on, things have gone badly wrong for the Spanish goalkeeper.
We caught up with Conor McGilligan, a presenter for All Leeds TV, who gave a feel of what the Leeds’ faithful think of their substandard Spanish shot-stopper.
“As damning as it is, a goalkeeper is crucial, arguably the most important player on the pitch. If you can't score and convert your chances, don't let the opposition score. Without a proper, confident, assured goalkeeper no team can expect promotion.
“He has won the Champions League three times and you would expect a basic level of confidence and assurance between the sticks. Unfortunately, Kiko hasn't been able to deliver what we would expect as our number one goalkeeper. The Derby play-off semi-final was a huge indication that the bigger occasions can get to him.”
It is not an exaggeration to say that he has been a liability for Leeds, especially in recent months. Over the last ten games, Leeds have kept the fewest clean sheets in the Championship, made the most errors leading to goals and Casilla himself has the 23rd worst save percentage in the division over that time period.
“The defence relies on the goalkeeper heavily, he is supposed to breed confidence, unfortunately, he hasn't been able to do that,” McGilligan continues: “Decision making is also a huge attribute to any goalkeeper, look at the top goalkeepers, Ederson and Allison. Their teams dominate possession (just like Leeds) however their decision making, concentration and focus make them superb keepers. The levels aren’t similar, but the basic premise of a good goalkeeper is to uphold those attributes at whatever level.”
Having been top of the Championship at the turn of the New Year, with an eleven point lead over third place, Marcelo Bielsa’s side must be suffering from Deja Vu as that eleven point lead has evaporated. Defeat tonight against Brentford could plummet them down to fifth, something that was unthinkable at the start of 2020.
“The issue is the mentality, the squad have the ability to be a top two side,” McGilligan said, adding: “Look at the calibre of players we have such as Helder Costa, Pablo Hernandez and Jack Harrison. Most teams in the division would love those players, however, Leeds United have the core nucleus from last year, the players that essentially lost focus and lost that last promotion place.
“As for Kiko, when we have needed him, he hasn't been there. His statistics are shocking when facing shots on target and his ability to take a player out and punch the ball out or claim a set piece is inept and I worry will harm us till the end of the season unless we make a change at the back. Kiko seems to worry the outfield players and is losing us games, which a goalkeeper on 35k a week, just should not do.”
Sammy Ameobi catches him out at his near post and Forest are in front against Leeds!
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The turning point for Casilla, in particular, can be pinpointed to the 14th December 2019. Leeds for 3-0 up at Elland Road against Cardiff and cruising to all three points before a disastrous second-half performance saw them crumble to a 3-3 draw. Before that game he had saved 82.5 per cent of the shots he had faced and made 4.7 saves for every goal he conceded. Since that game, he is down to a paltry 44.8 per cent save percentage while he has made just 0.76 saves for every goal he has conceded.
It has been quite a downturn in form that has led many Leeds fans to call for him to be dropped and replaced by Illan Meslier, the second choice goalkeeper. However, Bielsa’s fierce loyalty to his players means that this is unlikely he will be dropped, despite the calls from the stands.
“I think any solid keeper with the technical ability to distribute the ball and be able to make the correct decisions would be a massive boost in Leeds United’s season.” McGilligan ends, clearly frustrated with the signing that was supposed to end their goalkeeping woes.
It is now make or break for Leeds United and Kiko Casilla. The club hasn’t won at Griffin Park since 1950 and one mistake could send them sinking out of the automatic promotion places. The pressure is on the Spanish goalkeeper, and he usually doesn’t handle it well.