This time last year the catch-phrase of choice at Elland Road was major surgery. Neil Warnock cut into Leeds United’s squad and made his cuts deep, releasing five players and transfer-listing six.
Andy Lonergan, Adam Clayton and Robert Snodgrass were sold and Ross McCormack nearly followed. Warnock’s signings in a single season totalled 17 and when Leeds sacked him last month he promised his successor that the squad he left behind was “two or three quality players” short of top-end Championship class.
Brian McDermott is Warnock’s successor and his thoughts on that are presently his own. He has already submitted a list of potential recruits to United’s board, and asked how extensive his requirements were, the 52-year-old would only say: “It’s a list.”
The surgery carried out by him is likely to be less severe than Warnock’s butchery last summer but, as McCormack admitted this week, the team will not lie untouched. Here, Inside Elland Road assesses at the state of the squad inherited by McDermott on April 12:
Warnock calls Paddy Kenny “the best keeper in the Premier League.” Frankly, it would be going some to describe Kenny as the best keeper in the Championship. There are weaknesses behind his sharp and alert shot-stopping but the honest view of the 34-year-old is that he’s more than adequate for this division.
The process of replacing Lonergan with Kenny was not cost-free and Leeds could do without unnecessary expense in the months to come.
In the main, he has been worth his place ahead of Jamie Ashdown, though it might help both players if McDermott’s loyalty to Kenny is less unconditional than Warnock’s. You question whether, cup games excepted, United’s first choice would ever have been dropped. But he’s an asset still and Ashdown is a capable reserve, provided he’s happy to hang around next season.
Verdict: No change needed.
DEFENCE: A part of the team which is subject to the Robert Snodgrass question. If Sam Byram sits tight then the right-back role is sewn up. If Leeds decide to sell him, there’s a big hole to fill. Lee Peltier’s performance in Byram’s absence against Brighton was encouraging, and right-back after all is his baby.
That said, Leeds would miss Byram badly. His position might not seem like the crux of the team but the 19-year-old is an accomplished defender and has provided endless amounts of antidote to a laboured United attack.
Elsewhere, a partner for Tom Lees is needed, as is the retention of Lees himself. He is expected to be named in the England Under-21 squad for the forthcoming European Championship in Israel and scouts swarm over that competition like flies.
Alongside him, Jason Pearce for all his toil has not often looked like a £500,000 centre-back. Curtis Davies would be nice, or Mark Hudson if Cardiff City decide to take their own squad to the cleaners.
As for left-back, that responsibility can be left in the safe hands of Stephen Warnock.
Verdict: A centre-back should be McDermott’s priority.
MIDFIELD: Where to start? In certain cases, perseverance is a good idea. Rodolph Austin has been more involved and expressive since McDermott’s appointment and Paul Green is a useful squad player; versatile and extremely fit.
But part of Leeds’ problem is a glaring lack of variation among their midfielders. In short, too many players have the same level of ability and the same attributes. Too few are outstanding.
United miss a ball player of the ilk of Peter Whittingham and a winger of any standing whatsoever. Neither El-Hadji Diouf nor Luke Varney laid the path of their careers out wide. McDermott’s Reading were strong in that area – McDermott’s Reading were strong in every area – and a Jimmy Kebe, a Jobi McAnuff or a similar alternative would open doors which Leeds cannot unlock. McCormack’s recent shift into midfield spoke volumes about the limits of United’s creativity.
Verdict: Scope for change right across the midfield. At least two additions seem essential, one central and one out wide.
ATTACK: Play McCormack in a front two with creative players around him and he will score 20 goals. Get Steve Morison fit and shake him out of his malaise and he should reach double figures too. But more is needed. United can no longer count Davide Somma as a spare forward and the acquisition of Habib Habibou was another example of needle-in-the-haystack recruitment. Sadly for Leeds, they signed the haystack. And Diouf’s talent, obvious though it is, does not often lend itself to potent goalscoring.
Warnock had the right idea when he expressed an interest in Chris Wood in January and that is the calibre of forward a club like United require.
As a point of interest, McDermott’s pool of strikers in the season when Reading won the Championship title? Jason Roberts, Adam Le Fondre, Noel Hunt, Simon Church and Benik Afobe. Draw your own conclusions.
Verdict: A proven goalscorer needed.