Helder Costa's progress, the Eddie Nketiah situation and Ben White in centre midfield - Leeds United Talking Points

AFTER seeing Leeds United blitz Middlesbrough to make it five wins in a row, the YEP's Lee Sobot looks at a few key talking points from Saturday's 4-0 romp against the Riversiders at Elland Road.

Sunday, 1st December 2019, 1:05 pm
Updated Sunday, 1st December 2019, 1:53 pm

The complete performance?

Whites head coach Marcelo Bielsa proved magnanimous in victory, citing the injury problems being experienced by Jonathan Woodgate's Middlesbrough side who arrived at Elland Road with just one in 11.

The situation with the opposition always needs considering but Leeds completely blitzed their visitors as part of one of the most complete performances under Bielsa so far.

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JUMPING FOR JOY: Leeds United's Portuguese winger Helder Costa celebrates his first Whites league goal in Saturday's 4-0 romp against Middlesbrough. Photo by George Wood/Getty Images.

Even then, Leeds rather went off the boil midway through the first half and in the final ten minutes but United had 69 per cent of possession and 16 shots at goal compared to Boro's seven with tellingly ten on target compared to Boro's one.

But for two nice pieces of sweeper keeper defending and that one solitary save, Kiko Casilla might as well have taken the day off.

Familiar statistics from a Leeds point of view but this time the Whites were clinical in front of goal though even then other chances were squandered and the Whites could and should have been 3-0 up after 15 minutes.

But four goals, a clean sheet and a hugely dominant performance was just what the doctor ordered with United's fans, for once, able to chill a bit and see their side genuinely cruise to victory.

Klich is scoring braces

United's Polish international midfielder Mateusz Klich is very modest when it comes to assessing his goal-scoring capabilities.

The 29-year-old netted ten for Leeds last season but says he never envisaged scoring so many and the selfless Pole has always said that his individual achievements fall secondary to the needs of the team.

Yet Klich's brace already has the midfielder on four goals for the campaign still four games short of the half-way stage.

Klich has a fantastic shot on him and at this rate another ten for the season or possibly even more might be in the offing with the Pole continuing to break new ground at United.

The midfielder was rather taken aback after scoring his first ever career brace for Leeds last March in the 2-1 win at Rotherham United.

Now he was another one - a brace of braces - with the Pole excellent against the Riversiders and probably the stand out player along with Luke Ayling.

A hat-trick next Klichy.

Helder Costa up and running

Costa is going to prove one of United's most expensive signings ever when joining on a permanent deal from Wolves next summer and it's fair to say it has taken the Portuguese star time to find his feet at Leeds.

But gradually the 25-year-old is getting going and while not quite a vintage Costa display, Saturday's performance against Boro was probably his best for the Whites yet.

It had all been a bit 'nearly' for Costa so far in his attacking exploits but the former Portugal international finally bagged his first Whites assist in setting up Jack Harrison's winner at Reading on Tuesday and four days later his first goal arrived down to sheer perseverance and a rasping finish.

Boro's defending was questionable at best but fair play to Costa for taking the bull by the horns in cutting inside and unleashing such a powerful drive which clearly left the summer recruit delighted.

That, after all, is what Leeds are shelling out around £15m for through the overall package to bring Costa to Elland Road with only Rio Ferdinand, Robbie Keane and Robbie Fowler having cost more.

Costa's confidence should now be brimming and it would be no surprise if the goals and assists started to flow from here on in, particularly if the winger is played into space more often and opts to pull the trigger as he should.

Ben White in centre midfield

The one negative aspect of Saturday's clash at Elland Road came via the first-half booking for United's defensive midfield maestro Kalvin Phillips who will now serve a one-game ban for picking up five yellow cards before the cut off date.

That means United's Yorkshire Pirlo will be suspended for next Saturday's clash at Huddersfield Town but Bielsa clearly already had that in mind with his third and final substitution.

Phillips was taken off for Gaetano Berardi with seven minutes left with Berardi taking his place in the three-man defence as Ben White stepped into the holding midfield role.

Is there anything the Brighton loanee cannot do?

The colossal White had already been making notable forays forward in the recent wins at Reading and Luton and all the signs point to the classy ball-playing 22-year-old being able to excel as a holding midfielder.

What now with Eddie Nketiah back?

Another huge positive from the weekend came via the return of United's Arsenal loanee and England under-21s striker Eddie Nketiah from a lower abdominal injury.

After playing 45 minutes for United's under-23s on Friday, Nketiah was straight on to the bench and then handed 11 minutes on for the excellent Patrick Bamford against Boro.

In truth, Nketiah never really got going with the game completely all over at 4-0 but his return now once again sparks the continued debate as to whether Leeds play Bamford, Nketiah or both and more to the point will the Whites lose the young striker if he is not continually in the XI?

But the situation is a very difficult one as Bamford has to be one of the first names on the team sheet given his sheer work rate, his habit of annoying defenders and now also goals.

Moreover, United clearly thrive playing one upfront under Bielsa so if Nketiah is to start then it would likely have to be as a no 10 or out wide with Costa, Jack Harrison and Pablo Hernandez currently filling those three roles with Costa having come in for Tyler Roberts who is out with a hamstring injury.

A tough one as Arsenal will clearly want Nketiah to be starting games and the sacking of Unai Emery complicates the matter further as a new boss might will take a different view on the best path for Nketiah's development.

Bielsa has been happy to discuss the possibilities of whether or not Nketiah is recalled by the Gunners in January - the answer being he does not know but clearly hoping that the striker stays with Leeds not just for the remainder of this season but next season too.

Bamford is performing brilliantly at present but natural finisher and extremely pacy Nketiah is clearly one of the best young English forwards in the country and it is extremely important that he remains with the Whites who would surely have to bring in another striker option if he is recalled.

Over to you Preston

The Championship season has still yet to reach its half-way stage but there's already a growing feeling that once again the division could feature a breakaway trio at the top with fourth-placed Nottingham Forest again looking vulnerable and losing ground with Saturday's 1-0 loss at home to Cardiff City.

Leeds have now won five in a row with both second-placed West Brom and third-placed Fulham winning four in succession and the Baggies will look to make it a nap hand of consecutive victories in Monday night's clash at sixth-placed Preston North End who approach the game following back to back losses.

There will clearly be many more ups and downs, twists and turns and surprises but the pace at the top is now pretty relentless with the Whites one point above the Baggies but having played a game more.

The only gap that really matters is the one back to third-placed Fulham which still stands at five points but already there are strong signs of the Whites, Baggies and Cottagers being last season's Leeds, Norwich City and Sheffield United.

Leeds' clash at Fulham four days before Christmas is shaping up to be huge - must not lose - and given their current well being, United really ought to be approaching that one following eight-straight wins with Huddersfield away followed by back to back home clashes against Hull City and Cardiff City, not that anything is ever that straight-forward.

But United clearly need to avoid being anywhere near third like the plague and the best way of achieving that is to be completely ruthless though a favour from Alex Neil's Lilywhites on Monday and keeping two teams below the Whites would be rather nice as well.

Monday evening should be an interesting one on all fronts with United also set to find out their opponents in the FA Cup third round draw.