Leeds United: Five talking points ahead of Middlesbrough clash
Here are five talking points for fans of the Whites to ponder ahead of that tie:
The potential return of Alex Mowatt
Mowatt has been absent from action since Leeds lost 2-0 against Sheffield Wednesday in January, having suffered a leg injury in that game. The 20-year-old has struggled this season, failing to reach the heights of the 2014/15 campaign, when he was the Yorkshire Evening Post’s Player of the Year. However, he has provided a few moments of individual brilliance for the Whites, not least his long-range strikes against Cardiff City and Huddersfield Town. Mowatt has the potential to turn a game in an instant, something that has been lacking from Leeds’s play for most of the campaign. There are few teams they need game-changers against more than Middlesbrough, who are one of the Yorkshire sides dominating the promotion conversation, and Mowatt could be available.
Mirco Antenucci could outline his contract credentials
The absence of Chris Wood has presented a continual problem for Leeds. Souleymane Doukara was temporarily the answer, until the realisation came that his hold-up play remained an issue. Doukara then partnered Antenucci up-front, but that combination left Leeds horrifically exposed in the centre of midfield. Against Bolton, a 4-2-3-1 worked, but that same formation was stymied against Nottingham Forest. Antenucci’s deal runs out at the end of the season, and reports suggest the player is willing to sign a new deal. He has been told by Steve Evans to prove he is worth one. There are few better opportunities to do so than against one of the Championship’s better sides, a team he did not struggle too badly against as a lone striker earlier in the season.
Will Giuseppe Bellusci make amends for the past?
The game against Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium actually saw Leeds put together a decent display. However, they lost 3-0, in part due to a series of defensive errors from Giuseppe Bellusci that swung the momentum in their favour. Bellusci spent a prolonged spell on the sidelines after those mistakes, but has fought his way back into the first team. He has gone on to emerge as one of very few players to take any credit from a series of questionable results for Leeds. It would be a testament to his improvement if he managed to keep Jordan Rhodes at bay on Monday.
Leeds will find out just how much they have to improve
Middlesbrough may be in the middle of a blip, but they remain one of the most dangerous teams in the Championship. That danger has only been increased by the purchase of Jordan Rhodes on transfer deadline day. There has been a lot of discussion on Leeds’s end that promotion is a reasonable target next season. Boro have been there or there abouts all season. If Leeds need a measuring stick by which to judge themselves, then Monday should provide one.
Will Leeds’s ‘prudent’ approach be shown to be a problem?
Ahead of the game on Monday, assistant manager Paul Raynor admitted that Leeds are taking a “prudent” approach compared to Boro. The difference was highlighted by the two club’s respective transfer moves in January - Leeds spending £575,000 on Toumani Diagouraga, Middlesbrough splashing £9 million on Jordan Rhodes. It might become obvious on Monday that Leeds’s approach has left them a distance behind the Riverside Stadium club in terms of the quality of their squad.