Update 1: I’m baffled at the 0-1 performance against Huddersfield. These players are better than that. Update 2: Better result, 2-1 against Blackburn. Now only five points off the play-off spots. Update 3: 2-0 win away at Cardiff. Looking good!
Original article: Despite the paucity of points to date, I remain stubbornly optimistic that this will be a good year for my childhood favourite club Leeds United. My latest reason: new manager Garry Monk has signed a midfield duo that brings back subliminal memories of the Leeds glory years, with Irishman Eunan O’Kane partnering Scottish club captain Liam Bridcutt.
The pair should give cover to the often shaky Leeds defence, which looks somewhat safer with the transfer deadline gone. Former England and QPR goalkeeper Rob Green faces competition from Marco Silvestri, Ross Turnbull and young Bailey Peacock-Farrell. They will have to command the penalty area more effectively than in recent years.
Charlie Taylor remains at left back, despite several top clubs wanting to buy him, and youngster Tylor Denton scored a goal when he replaced Taylor against Luton two weeks ago. Luke Ayling, signed from Bristol City, has taken over the right-back slot vacated by the injured Gaetano Berardi, with youngster Lewie Coyle as back-up.
With last year’s captain Sol Bamba gone, Leeds now have three established central defenders. Kyle Bartley on loan from Swansea and Pontus Jannson on loan from Torino may have the edge over Liam Cooper, who can also play at left back. A fourth central defender to replace Bamba would be useful, although right-back Luke Ayling can also play there.
Eunan O’Kane and new captain Liam Bridcutt should steady the centre of midfield, providing some experience to help the younger players. O’Kane has helped Bournemouth go from League One to the Premier League, and Bridcutt is already a fans favourite after Sunderland loaned him to Leeds last year. They face competition from Matt Grimes on loan from Swansea, Kalvin Phillips and Ronaldo Vieira, with Luke Murphy and Toumani Diagouraga on the fringes.
Options abound in attacking midfielders. Kemar Roofe signed from Oxford on the left wing or up front, Hadi Sacko on loan from Sporting Lisbon on the right wing or up front, the creative Spaniard Pablo Hernandez on loan from Al-Arabi on the left wing or just behind the strikers, Alex Mowatt on the left wing or in the centre, and Stuart Dallas on either wing. Plenty of opportunities to get in behind defenders and provide goals or crosses for the strikers.
Up front, I am optimistic that when the goals start they will flow. Chris Wood has the experience and ability to silence doubting fans, and new Swedish signing Marcus Antonsson from Kalmar has already scored a stunning goal in the League Cup. Souleymane Doukara, Kemar Roofe and Hadi Sacko can also play up front. The attacking options mean that Leeds could play 4-4-2, 4-4-1-1 or 4-2-3-1 as the situation needs.
As well as Tyler Denton, Kalvin Philips and Ronaldo Vieira, several other promising youngsters have had their contracts extended: goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell, defenders Tom Pearce and Jack Vann, midfielders Michael taylor and Alex Purver, and Irish strikers Eoghan Stokes and Frank Mulhern. Two other young midfielders have also joined Leeds, Billy Whitehouse from Doncaster and Conor Shaughnessy from Reading, and teenaged winger Dario Meadows has come on loan from Roma.
All in all, a far better squad than Leeds ended last season with. But Leeds had a terrible start to the season, losing to QPR and Birmingham before Chris Wood’s spectacular last-minute overhead kick goal against Fulham brought the first point from a possible nine. A clean sheet and a hard-fought 2-10 win in the derby against Sheffield Wednesday, plus League Cup wins against Fleetwood and Luton, brought back some optimism, only to be beaten 3-1 by Nottingham Forest in the final game before the international break.
September will be important. Huddersfield Town at home this weekend, another derby match against the surprise early leaders of the division. Then Blackburn at home on Tuesday, Cardiff away next Saturday, Blackburn again at home in the League Cup next week, Ipswich at home the next Saturday, Bristol away the next tuesday, and Barnsley at home on October first. That’s seven games in three weeks, with eighteen league points and a place in the next round of the League Cup at stake.
Leeds owner Massimo Cellino has a habit of firing and hiring managers at will. Just this week he tightened his grip on the club, buying out minority shareholders to secure 100% of the shares. Whether that means that he intends to invest more, or sell the club, or try to make some of his money back, is anybody’s guess. We can only hope that Garry Monk and his squad can make Leeds United more newsworthy on the pitch than the background shenanigans do off the field.
Back to the Leeds United Glory Years? It will take some time, but we can get there. It took some time to get there the first time around. In Don Revie’s first season in charge, Leeds finished 19th in Division 2, and escaped relegation on the last day.
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