AFTER seeing Leeds United move a big step closer to sealing a Championship play-off place, the YEP’s Lee Sobot looks at a few key talking points from the 3-0 defeat of Preston North End at Elland Road.
Has Garry Monk found his perfect balance?
Rumours emerged around two hours before kick-off that captain Liam Bridcutt would be missing through injury - though it has to be said that even Bridcutt’s place in the starting line up was not guaranteed after the defeats to Reading and Brentford.
Whites head coach Garry Monk was effectively left with a choice of two from three in centre-midfield out of Ronaldo Vieira, Kalvin Phillips and Eunan O’Kane and perhaps a tad surprisingly opted against giving O’Kane a go, with Vieira lining up alongside Phillips in a very young central midfield.
But the young dynamic duo were brilliant, especially with Phillips playing in a slightly more advanced role than Vieira as opposed to just having two centre midfielders sat in front of the back four.
Monk also made changes to both wide positions and the recalled Kemar Roofe had probably his best game yet in a Leeds shirt on the right flank. The 24-year-old interestingly said afterwards that he had also been given free rein to cut inside and move into central areas more, with Luke Ayling moving further forward in such circumstances. It worked a treat and Alfonso Pedraza also had a decent game on the opposite wing while Pablo Hernandez returned to something close to his best after two poor performances away from home in the no 10 position.
It’s horses for courses in the Championship and different team selections will suit different games but this one looked pretty good, with the rest of the positions pretty much picking themselves as Gaetano Berardi’s fine displays continue to keep Charlie Taylor out of the team. With Liam Cooper still banned for another four games, the only nagging worry is that Pontus Jansson remains two bookings away from picking up a three-game ban for 15 yellow cards and the ban would also apply to the play-offs. If Cooper is still out, Ayling would have to play centre back as a result.
Will Liam Bridcutt get back in?
Monk revealed in his post-match press conference that his captain had suffered a knock to his Achilles in last weekend’s defeat to Reading.
Bridcutt still played with the knock in Tuesday’s clash at Brentford but “wasn’t quite right” and subsequently missed the clash with Preston. Monk says the problem is not serious - “soreness more than anything” - though it’s worth remembering that Charlie Taylor’s Achilles problem ended up keeping the left back out for nearly three months.
Even so, Monk seems confident that he will soon have his captain back but there is certainly no need to rush the 27-year-old given Saturday’s stellar efforts of Vieira and Phillips, not to mention the presence of O’Kane. Kyle Bartley is also a more than able stand-in captain.
Elsewhere on the injury front, it could be that Marco Silvestri has now played his last game of the season for Leeds given that the Italian goalkeeper has suffered knee ligament damage, not that Rob Green was in any danger whatsoever of being replaced anyhow. Green has been superb over the last few months and at this rate is a contender for player of the season. The ‘keeper was probably unlucky not to have made the EFL team of the year alongside Chris Wood and Jansson.
How many more wins will Leeds need to seal a play-off place?
Four is the mathematical answer to this conundrum but that is assuming that seventh-placed Fulham take 15 points from their last five games which looks very unlikely to happen.
The Cottagers visit a thriving Norwich City side on Good Friday and after a home clash with Aston Villa, the Londoners then visit Huddersfield Town.
After a Craven Cottage date with Brentford, Fulham end the regular season with a clash at Sheffield Wednesday which may well decide who finishes sixth, just as long as Leeds can continue winning ways.
But Fulham would do well to get even nine points from their last five games - assuming they can win their home games and draw their tough away assignments - and two wins from United’s last five games - at worst - ought to be more than enough to seal a play-off place.
Newcastle United hardly looked bombproof in Saturday’s 2-1 loss at Sheffield Wednesday and there’s no reason why Leeds cannot at least pick up something from Good Friday’s trip to St James’ Park on a day when Fulham will hopefully get beat at Norwich.
And United’s final four games are all extremely winnable, with a Bank Holiday Monday hosting of 15th-placed Wolves followed by a trip to fifth-bottom Burton Albion the following Saturday.
The visit of tenth-placed Norwich the following weekend will not be easy but United have a brilliant record at home and the final day could certainly have thrown up something more taxing with Leeds away to second-bottom Wigan.
A play-off place is not exactly in the bag yet but it’s looking good and it’s no wonder the Whites are now as short as 1-16 to finish in the top six.