AFTER seeing Leeds United drop into the Championship’s relegation zone with Saturday’s derby day loss to Huddersfield Town, Lee Sobot looks at some key talking points arising from the weekend clash at Elland Road.
Eunan O’Kane needs starting pronto
O’Kane might not have played a competitive this season after being down the pecking order at Bournemouth but it was nonetheless a big surprise that the transfer deadline day signing was not even included in Garry Monk’s 18 to face Huddersfield. O’Kane was fit, but Monk wanted to give the midfielder time to settle and adjust having only had a short period of time training with the Whites. But without him, United’s midfield were overrun by Huddersfield’s and young Kalvin Phillips had a very frustrating afternoon with his set piece deliveries pretty woeful. He’ll admit that himself. Phillips has loads of potential - he’s still only 20 and he’s only made 19 appearances for Leeds - but United need experience right now and Irish international O’Kane has that in droves. Settling in or otherwise, Tuesday night’s Championship visit of bottom of the table Blackburn is now must win for Leeds and O’Kane surely starts alongside new captain Liam Bridcutt in central midfield.
United need a new option for left midfield
Alex Mowatt has plenty of very good attributes and United’s faithful are desperate for the 21-year-old to regain the form he showed in 2013-14 when winning the club’s young player of the season award after bagging nine goals. But Mowatt is not a natural left midfielder and he naturally drifted too central at times during Saturday’s clash with Huddersfield. Mowatt came in for Pablo Hernandez at the weekend with Hernandez starting in that position in the game at Nottingham Forest but the former Valencia player also does not convince as a left midfielder. It’s square pegs round holes. Surely Stuart Dallas and Kemar Roofe are better options - with Hadi Sacko on the opposite flank. And if room needs to be found for one of Mowatt or Hernandez then perhaps Monk needs to revert to playing one upfront and adding in an extra midfielder or playing Hernandez as a no 10. Or even go three at the back and play Charlie Taylor out wide on the left flank. It’s getting to the point where new options have to be explored. If Monk does choose to revert to playing one natural striker, based on recent displays, Marcus Antonsson would seem just as entitled to fulfil that role as Chris Wood.
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Pontus Jansson looks a decent centre-back
In the interest of balance, we should try to find a positive and Jansson supplied one on his Elland Road debut. The Swede was not foot perfect alongside Kyle Bartley and there was one moment in the second half when he looked like getting tangled up with the ball in a dangerous position and allowing Huddersfield to break. But the 25-year-old got away with it and his six-foot-five presence was a welcome new addition to United’s back four - plus he ought to offer a threat offensively at corners too. It’s probably no coincidence that with Jansson in the team, for once, United managed to clear their lines from all the set pieces they conceded on Saturday. Jansson had a solid league debut in what was also his first 90 minutes for a few months. It was also pleasing to see Jansson’s passion when geeing up the Kop in the first half and he could quite easily become a firm favourite at Leeds, especially if playing over the 20 games required to bag him a permanent deal. An odd arrangement if ever there was one.
It’s two from three for Monk if playing two centre-backs, or two from four if Luke Ayling is an option. From now on, it has to be Jansson plus a nother, be it Bartley, Liam Cooper or Ayling. Behind the back four, Rob Green will surely have been disappointed to have been beaten by Aaron Mooy’s strike at his right-hand post given his starting position and there remains a strong argument that Marco Silvestri should be given a go instead.
Monk should consider sticking Mallik Wilks on the bench
The introduction of Souleymane Doukara as a 67th-minute substitute went down like a lead balloon lead on Saturday, with the change greeted by a chorus of boos. In fairness to Doukara, much of that is probably down to the fact that plenty of fans will have wanted to have seen Wood and not Antonsson taken off. Doukara also immediately set up Alex Mowatt who went close to scoring but thereafter he made little impression. So what harm is there in giving 17-year-old Academy product Wilks a go? Obviously, the cut and thrust of the Championship is a different kettle of fish to under-23s football but Wilks - who seems at the top of the club’s young strikers pecking order - has pace and a natural eye for goal and Leeds badly need a new creative spark. If it all proves too much too soon then fair enough but there must now be a temptation to give it a go. Last but not least, Monk’s post-match press conference with BBC Radio Leeds reporter Adam Pope was also a major taking point on Saturday but perhaps enough has been said about that already. Time to move on and for definite it’s time for three crucial points at Elland Road, takeover or no takeover behind the scenes.