WHISPER it gently, but the signs are looking a bit brighter at Leeds United these days - after a steady summer. Yes, you read this correctly.
United start 2015-16 at home to Burnley in front of what is likely to be a decidedly healthy Elland Road crowd on Saturday lunch-time, regardless of it being screened live on TV. The Whites nation expects, as ever.
Stability will be required on and off the pitch, that much can be taking as read. The 2014-15 season was yet another run-of-the-mill crazy season in the recent history of the Whites - who employed three different permanent head coaches in Dave Hockaday, Darko Milanic and Neil Redfearn. Over to you, Uwe... Good luck.
Here are five things, on the pitch, that Leeds need to address in 2015-16.
1: Another striker to supplement Chris Wood.
It was a dispiriting 2014-15 season for United’s forwards and only one, Mirco Antenucci, ended the campaign in double figures. That said, Antenucci was a fading force in the second half of the season and also fell away from many fans affections due to his implication as one of the ‘Charlton Six.’
United’s four central strikers of last season in Antenucci, Billy Sharp, Souleymane Doukara and Steve Morison managed 22 league goals between them last term. Compare that to 2013-14 when Ross McCormack and Matt Smith plundered an combined total of 40 goals. Some difference...
The £3m signing of Chris Wood will hopefully go someway to addressing matters and it wasn’t rocket science to deduce that he has been brought in to address one glaring area - goals up top.
Another young forward in Lee Erwin has arrived from Motherwell, but the smart money is on him needing time to adjust to Championship life, having not played at this level before. It would be unwise to predict an immediate goal rush from the Scot. Also factor in that strikers need service and you sense £1.3m arrival Stuart Dallas will be key in that regard along with Byram, more specifically for Wood.
With Sharp having departed to Bramall Lane and the club keen on getting Morison off the wage bill, another striking option would not go amiss - although bonafide proven Championship marksmen of a certain age and type cost money and don’t come cheap.
2: Keep hold of the family silver in Cook, Byram, Mowatt and Taylor.
Lewis Cook’s contract extension at early summer was a welcome development, although it also had plenty to do with Leeds covering their bases, call it an insurance policy if you like. It put an extra premium on the prodigiously talented midfielder - if he emulates his first half of 2014-15 with some similarly inspired performances in the next campaign, you can bet your bottom dollar that Premier League clubs will have Cook in their sights in January.
It can take nerve to fend off Premier League advances and all too often in the past, Leeds have cashed in. Given the fact that Cook, Sam Byram, Alex Mowatt and Charlie Taylor have roughly emerged at the same time onto the first-team scene, their development has genuinely enthused United’s scarred support, who have been let down on too many times worth mentioning over the past decade. Massimo Cellino have spoken about keeping the young kids together and building something. It’s essential that he delivers in that respect and that they aren’t just cheap words.
3: Sol Bamba to prove a talisman at the back again
Bamba did as much as everyone on the pitch to stabilise matters for Leeds in that key season-defining spell of late winter and early spring, when United pulled away from danger in impressive fashion - it was an uplifting, if ultimately brief, hiatus at Leeds when everyone seemed together as one.
In his short time at Leeds, Bamba was also clearly a strong voice on the pitch and in the dressing room and at 30, he still has a few miles left on the clock.
His pre-season utterances have spoken of his willingness to take responsibility in the dressing room and be a leader on and off the pitch and few would be surprised if he is given the captain’s armband. Bamba is the sort of talismanic influence which every side needs, especially at one like Leeds United where you need a surfeit of leaders. Expect Bamba to step up.
4: Continue to get the best out of Luke Murphy.
One of the key stories in United’s renaissance from January to March was the welcome re-emergence of Luke Murphy, who was brought in from the cold and gradually began to blossom, thanks in no small part to the input of Redfearn and Thompson. Rosler and his assistant Rob Kelly have Championship savvy and will know about the talents of Murphy, who clearly had his confidence knocked in the first half of last season.
Murphy again needs to be encouraged and given licence to express himself and cajoled in the right way. Do that and he can be a big player for Leeds next season.
5: The side sticking together and avoiding the schism between some of the English players and their foreign team-mates which pervaded at the end of last season.
It is clear that there was some form of divide between some domestic and foreign players in the Leeds dressing room at times last term and it needs a skilful operator to bring sections together again and maybe mend a few fences.
Rosler, as a German with experience of the Continental game alongside his time in England, has spoken consistently about the need for unity and togetherness in pre-season and the signs have been encouraging in that respect.
All good sides are built on a strong team spirit and some ice appeared to have thawed in the United camp.
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