Eddie Nketiah or Patrick Bamford or both and the conundrums facing Marcelo Bielsa - Leeds United Talking Points

AFTER seeing Leeds United fall to their first Championship defeat of the season, Lee Sobot takes a look at the main Whites Talking Points following Saturday's 1-0 loss against new leaders Swansea City at Elland Road.

Sunday, 1st September 2019, 01:08 am
ONE THAT GOT AWAY: Leeds United striker Patrick Bamford looks on as Swansea City survive another Whites chance in Saturday's 1-0 loss at Elland Road. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.

Patrick Bamford or Eddie Nketiah or both?

Leeds have a clearly extremely talented England under-21s international striker on their hands in Arsenal loanee Eddie Nketiah but one who is still awaiting his first Championship start for the Whites.

Patrick Bamford was again given the nod in the lone striker role against the Swans after netting four goals in United's first five league games and naturally a decent share of the main chances that Leeds created against Swansea fell to the man selected to lead the line.

But Bamford's excellent work rate and hold up play failed to match his finishing and the 25-year-old was taken off after 61 minutes in a like for like change, with Nketiah taking in the final 29 minutes upfront.

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The pacy Nketiah then had two decent chances after coming on though unlike in the 1-0 win at home to Brentford, the Arsenal loanee was unable to find the goal to give Leeds the breakthrough with his late header from a tight angle probably United's best opportunity of the game along with Liam Cooper's header which hit the bar.

Against Brentford, Nketiah was brought on with 13 minutes left but for Pablo Hernandez with Nketiah and Bamford operating in a front two for the final stages and with the young Gunner netting just four minutes after coming on.

Bielsa now has two weeks to decide how to play matters when Leeds return to action at Barnsley.

With the Whites yet again paying the price for failing to make their dominance, possession and chances count against the Swans, the obvious shout is to start the two strikers together but that would mean a change in shape to the 4-1-4-1 that created chances at will against the Swans.

It looked purely a matter of time before Leeds would score against Swansea.

Kalvin Phillips dictated matters in the holding midfield role behind Adam Forshaw and Mateusz Klich in centre midfield with Pablo Hernandez and Jack Harrison on the flanks behind Bamford - and then latterly Nketiah with Helder Costa also introduced late on.

With full-backs Gjanni Alioski and Stuart Dallas also bombing forwards, that system led to Leeds having 21 shots at goal against the Swans but only three of them hit the target and that ultimately told its own tale.

Of United's 21 shots on goal, four came via Bamford with another four from Hernandez and Alioski next with three.

Harrison, Dallas, Cooper and second-half substitute Nketiah had two apiece with Klich and Forshaw having one each.

Only Bamford, Alioski and Hernandez hit the target once each with Freddie Woodman pretty easily equal to all three.

A true smash and grab from the Swans but Leeds have now won only one of their last seven games at home and that clearly needs addressing.

Time to start Helder Costa?

Whether or not to start Nketiah and where is an obvious conundrum for Bielsa but the same is true of marquee summer signing Costa who continues to produce the goods when called for from the bench.

Leeds have paid big money to take the skilful Portugal international from Wolves initially on loan in a deal that will be made permanent next summer but Bielsa naturally calls for any new recruit to get up to speed with both his style of demanding high press football and fitness.

Costa, though, now looks more than ready to step in and rather like Nketiah the million dollar question is who the Portuguese star will come in for and when.

Defending set pieces

Leeds by and large defended well against Swansea but full back Stuart Dallas hit the nail on the head in admitting that the visitors ultimately walked away with all three points after scoring a "scrappy" winner in the 90th minute through Wayne Routledge which all came about from a corner delivered back in at the second phase of play.

From a destination of the points perspective, the goal would not have mattered had the Whites made the most of their previous chances but United's vulnerability at set pieces remains a problem that won't go away and Bielsa and his team are sure to be analysing the issue further over the two-week international break.

Luke Ayling's and Tyler Roberts' returnsBielsa has already admitted several times that United's quest for promotion this term will be somewhat dependent on his men avoiding the ridiculous amount of injuries suffered last term.

Compared to last season, Leeds' injury list was relatively light ahead of Saturday's clash against the Swans with both skipper Liam Cooper and Barry Douglas back available after recent setbacks leaving Luke Ayling and Tyler Roberts as the two absentees.

Bielsa said two weeks ago that neither would be returning any time soon but both were filmed in training on Monday and there must be chances of the duo returning relatively swiftly after the international break.

Both could and should massively help the Whites, right back Ayling in further shoring up the defensive line though he might have a job shifting the very much in form Dallas while Ben White continues to excel at centre-back alongside Cooper with both having good games.

Another selection dilemma for Bielsa is whether to stick with Gjanni Alioski or Barry Douglas at left back or even play Dallas there when Ayling returns while Bielsa also still has the industrious and ever impressing Jamie Shackleton waiting on the bench.

Roberts, meanwhile, offers the prospect of flair and ultimately goals which against Swansea clearly let Leeds down.

When will Jack Clarke get in?

Plenty was made of Jack Clarke's summer transfer to Tottenham Hotspur for £9m and realistically just how close the teenage winger would be to Mauricio Pochettino's first team.

In the circumstances, a season-long loan back to Leeds looked a good call but the 18-year-old has now failed to make the bench for United's last four league games though while his promise and talent is not in doubt the winger failed to make much of an impression when starting in Tuesday night's Carabao Cup tie against Stoke City.

Nevertheless, Clarke definitely gives Bielsa another attacking option but the teen is not helped by the EFL loans rule which stipulates that sides can only name five loanees in their match day 18.

Leeds have six - Clarke plus Lorient goalkeeper Illan Meslier, Brighton centre-back White, Manchester City winger Harrison, Arsenal striker Nketiah and Wolves forward Costa and unless Meslier is shifted from the bench it is hard to see at present when Clarke will get in.

Hot favourites sat in third

Swansea deserve credit for digging in and limiting Leeds to only three attempts on target and Steve Cooper's side now head into the September international break sat top of the Championship and two points ahead of Lee Bowyer's Charlton Athletic with United now back down to third and one point behind the Addicks.

Leeds are now one point worse off than at this stage last season, all the more galling as the Whites instead had every opportunity to see off the Swans and open up their own two-point lead at the top of the pile.

But United remain strong favourites to make amends for last season's heartache in the ultimate style with the Whites no bigger than 6-4 favourites to win the division ahead of Fulham (sixth) at 9-2 followed by West Brom (fourth) at 9s and then Swansea at 12s.

There is then a big gap in the betting market back to joint fifth favourites Brentford (14th) and Cardiff City (13th) at 28s.

Charlton, meanwhile, can still be backed at 66-1 and the odds available on both the Addicks and Swans look a bit insulting but Leeds know all too well that this is a 46-game marathon and not a six-game sprint.

The Whites look just as good if not arguably a bit better than last season taking the opening six games as a whole into account - finishing permitting - and this year's Championship might even be slightly weaker than last term's.

But quite simply Leeds will only yield the rewards their exceptional play deserves if fulfilling the requirement that matters most of putting the ball in the back of the net.