AHEAD of Leeds United’s first game of 2016, Lee Sobot looks at five likely talking points ahead of Saturday’s Championship visit of MK Dons.
What part will Sam Byram play?
It seems pretty clear that Byram is on his way out of Elland Road; a case of when not if. But will the right back be moving on in the January transfer window or will Leeds retain his services until his contract is up in the summer? In either case, will head coach Steve Evans use a player whose future is now clearly elsewhere - unless the 22-year-old suddenly has a change of heart and signs a new deal. Evans has previously stated he will not field players who are not committed to the long term future, though the Byram situation is now complicated by the fact that in recent games he has been United’s best player. The right back was said to be looking teary and emotional after Tuesday night’s draw with Derby, raising suspicions that a deal with another club may already be in place and that Byram knew he had played his last game for Leeds. Liverpool are favourites to secure his services.
Will Chris Wood be fit to lead the line?
Lone striker Wood limped off with a hamstring injury just four minutes after giving United the lead against Derby on Tuesday and a late decision will be taken regards his participation against MK Dons. A scan taken on Wednesday revealed no serious damage but the striker is said to be “50-50” to feature, just when his confidence will be restored by Tuesday’s much-needed goal. With Lee Erwin seemingly out of the picture - he hasn’t even made the bench of late - Mirco Antenucci and Souleymane Doukara would be United’s other striking options but neither is a natural lone striker meaning Steve Evans may opt to change the system should Wood miss out. It will also be interesting to see if Lewis Cook is restored to the midfield having been given a breather against Derby. United missed his energy and the answer is probably yes.
What names will be thrown into the January transfer window melting pot?
Head coach Steve Evans has said United have identified “three key targets” who they will try and sign in January though the Glaswegian is hopeful Leeds might even land four new faces. Much will depend on how much backing Evans receives from chairman Massimo Cellino who said he would back the head coach if Leeds were within six points of the play-offs in January. The gap now is nine.
Evans is known to be interested in Norwich City striker Kyle Lafferty but the identity of other United ‘targets’ has not been revealed. The window opens on Saturday and as gossips spreads fast expect plenty of names linked to LUFC.
Will there by any developments with the Liam Bridcutt loan move?
Steve Evans came out with a cracking line after Tuesday night’s draw with derby, saying: “it took longer to get Liam Bridcutt in than it did to find out who shot someone in Eastenders.” True, and the worry now is that the 26-year-old could quickly be on his way. As things stands, the defensive midfielder’s loan move from Sunderland expires on January 2 - Saturday - with Evans having stated that a verbal/gentleman’s agreement was in place for Bridcutt to stay at Elland Road until the end of the season. But Evans has also said he will not argue with Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce who has stated that Bridcutt’s long term future is neither at Sunderland nor Leeds. Clearly, a lot will depend on the player but Brighton have been heavily linked with Bridcutt and a good money offer would be hard for Sunderland to resist. It may be that Leeds also enter the permanent transfer war for the 26-year-old. Here’s hoping.
What is Massimo Cellino’s first move of the new year?
Cellino stated after October’s 2-0 home loss to Blackburn Rovers that he would no longer attend any more Leeds United matches after the crowd turned on him with chants of “Massimo, time to go” and “sell the club, f*** off home.”
Cellino then announced his intention to sell - before changing his mind - and then started appearing at United’s away games.
What with a new year often resembling a new start and all that, it would hardly be the shock of the century to see the Italian make a surprise appearance at Elland Road at some stage, for all that there is no concrete suggestions of that with the 59-year-old having spent Christmas in Miami.
Cellino remains banned from running Leeds for breaching the Football League’s owners’ and directors’ rules following a conviction for tax evasion but the Italian is appealing the decision and the Football League are still yet to reveal details of his appeal process. Meantime the Italian is locked in a bitter row with the Football League and Sky about the number of times his side have been televised live by Sky Sports. Complicated. As ever at Leeds.