Football’s a strange game. Six or seven weeks ago I’d have told you that Leeds United’s squad needed a fair amount of work in the January transfer window. But now that it’s almost here I’m not so sure.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d be really disappointed if the club went through January without doing anything significant to the group because we’re in a great position and I think we’ve done enough this season to look for a concerted push from Christmas onwards.
But I sat with Brian McDermott at Lorimer’s Bar on Monday night and it sounds to me like he’ll be very sensible in his dealings next month. No matter how much investment is coming in or how big his transfer pot will be, he’s his own man and a boss who does things his own way.
Anyone who looks at the squad at present knows where it’s weak. Basically we don’t have a single winger to work with. With the exception of the period when Jerome Thomas came in on loan from West Brom, it’s been the story of our club since Robert Snodgrass went to Norwich.
I’m a great believer that teams need pace and teams with rapid, skilful wingers are the most difficult to deal with. In time I fully expect Brian to revert to the sort of system he had at Reading where there were wide players aplenty and no lack of creative talent. But you have to ask whether this is the right moment for a rethink at Leeds.
A couple of months ago the one thing we all agreed on was that United were consistently inconsistent. In fact, to look at the results towards the end of September and the start of October it was clear that things at that point weren’t working.
Brian used two weeks over the international break in October to implement a 3-5-2 system – his way of ensuring the team had width despite the absence of a single winger in it. The formation’s worked brilliantly since then and I’m honestly not sure I’d be in favour of disrupting that set-up at a point in the season where we’re ticking along nicely.
In some ways January’s a Catch-22. It seems that the club are looking at Max Gradel again and you’d struggle to find an argument for not re-resigning him.
Fair enough, if injury’s taken its toll or he’s no longer the same player he was then it’s stupid to dream about former glories but if he came back as the goalscoring talent he was in 2010-11 then I think we’d have him all day long. That’s the thing about good players – you never turn them down.
But for me it’s important to balance the need for signings with a commitment to making sure the team isn’t disrupted unnecessarily. At the moment we’ve actually got quite a few lads coming right into form. Ross McCormack’s on fire and has been for ages but Matt Smith is improving by the game and Luke Murphy seems like he’s starting to get to grips with life at Elland Road.
The defence were very resolute at Doncaster and Paddy Kenny’s having a decent season. With Jamie Ashdown injured and in danger of missing a lot of the second half of the term I definitely feel that the addition of another experienced goalkeeper would be a good idea next month, but I really wouldn’t say that wholesale changes are needed.
One of the priorities in my opinion should be a utility forward, someone who can play in a range of positions up front and give us variety when we need it. I understand why people want another out-and-out goalscorer and it wouldn’t do any harm but McCormack has settled into a groove and although strikers are prone to lean patches, I fancy him to go close to 30 goals.
On top of that we’ve got Smith who’s scoring one a game at the moment and I feel is only a fraction away from really taking someone apart. He could have had three or four against Watford and slowly but surely he’s starting to look more at home in the Championship. I said last week that he’s coming of age at this level and his impact against Doncaster made the point for me.
He might actually prove to be the surprise package of the season. Alex Mowatt has just as strong a claim but the thing about Mowatt is that everyone in the academy rated him highly. With Smith, I had no idea what to expect. But his vein of form is really encouraging and this is a delicate situation for a manager. Brian might want more goals in his squad but equally he’ll be wary of unsettling strikers who are on top of their game.
Whatever he does I’ve got faith in Brian to get it right and having spoken to him on Monday I’m keen to see what happens next month. Use the market wisely and we’ll be in the running. What a happy new year that would be.