Mateusz Bogusz, Patrick Bamford, a case for the defence - What have we learnt from Leeds United's tour Down Under?
LEEDS UNITED are touching down back in England after a week in Australia and clashes against Manchester United and Western Sydney Wanderers during the club’s pre-season tour.
But what will United’s head coach Marcelo Bielsa have learnt from the squad's eight days Down Under?
Mateusz Bogusz looks ready
Bogusz arrived with a glowing reputation at youth level upon signing from Ruch Chorzow back in January and excitement levels were raised further back in March when Mateusz Klich insisted fellow Pole Bogusz would be even better than him.
The 17-year-old quickly began impressing for United’s under-23s and appearances on the bench for both legs of United’s Championship play-offs semi finals provided a strong hint that the attacking midfielder was high in Bielsa’s thoughts.
Bogusz was selected as one of 16 players to board the plane to Australia and injury to Adam Forshaw provided the Pole with the opportunity to start Saturday’s game against Western Sydney Wanderers and the teenager made a huge impression with so much more to his performance than his fine ninth-minute goal.
Bogusz looked brimming with pace, confidence and natural talent, displaying some lovely touches and instinctive passes whilst also becoming very advanced and often pushing up to be alongside striker Patrick Bamford and number 10 Kemar Roofe in the front line.
The teen looked as if he was a Whites regular, never mind a 17-year-old who has yet to even make a competitive appearance in English football and while it would be difficult to quantify just how a team like Western Sydney Wanderers would fare in the Championship, the over-riding impression was that Bogusz already looked ready.
Leeds have very good options in central attacking midfield yet on this evidence it might well prove that very soon Bogusz is the best of them and Leeds will only hope that the sight of the Pole limping off in the second half was nothing serious and similar comments apply to Kemar Roofe.
United have had some seriously talented young players come through their ranks in recent years and while it is still early days, Bogusz could be up there with the best of them.
Patrick Bamford needs a break
Not a break from the team but a break in front of goal with the striker’s performance against Western Sydney Wanderers probably the most discussed aspect of the Australian tour.
As the club’s most expensive signing since Robbie Fowler, big things were always going to be expected of £7m recruit Bamford who had to endure two separate spells on the sidelines with knee injuries last term as part of a campaign that featured only 15 league starts and seven appearances from the bench.
In the circumstances, the striker was pretty pleased with his return of nine league goals, 10 in league and cup.
Better than a one-in-two return argued the forward in Australia who said that was the aim for any striker unless you were Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.
Either of that duo would have absolutely filled their boots against Western Sydney Wanderers such was the impressive nature of United’s free-flowing attacking play, yet lone striker Bamford left without a goal and clearly frustrated to the point of shaking his head and giving a wry smile about the situation towards the end of the second half.
Bamford was guilty of some big misses at the end of last season but there was always the sense that with a clean bill of health and genuine match sharpness on his side that his second season at Leeds would be the year.
Chris Wood also had a very frustrating first campaign at the Whites – scoring 13 – before then hitting lift off and smashing in 31 the following term.
Bamford would love something similar but striker’s thrive on confidence and the sooner he sticks one in the back of the net the better. In his defence, Bamford is definitely getting in the right positions and the forward was denied by a couple of good saves against Western Sydney though there’s a feeling that on occasion power and not finesse might get the job done more often than not.
Question marks at centre-back
Leeds were brilliant offensively against Western Sydney but for a profligacy in front of goal and the Whites weren’t bad in that department in the first half against Manchester United given the opposition.
But there were definite concerns defensively against the Red Devils – perhaps to be expected against one of the best teams in England with pace galore – though Western Sydney also caused problems and looked likely to leave with a draw until Pablo Hernandez’s intervention.
And while the highly rated centre-back Ben White remained back home working of fitness work at Thorp Arch, there is still a nagging feeling that the Whites would be better equipped with an additional centre-back option heading into the new term for both competition and cover without Pontus Jansson who continues to settle into life at Brentford after a breakdown in relationship between player and club.
That has seemingly left skipper Liam Cooper and new recruit White as first choice centre-backs with Gaetano Berardi, Kalvin Phillips, Luke Ayling and a youngster who Bielsa rates highly in Pascalk Struijk as the other options.
Leeds still have over two weeks to act in the transfer market with the summer window not closing until 5pm on Thursday, August 8 and it will be interesting to see if any moves are made in the centre-back department which – along with the habit of continually squandering chances at the other end – remains the biggest talking point surrounding United’s side as well as the goalkeeping situation though Kiko Casilla thankfully looked more assured Down Under.
Director of football Victor Orta said in Australia that United’s transfer business was likely 90 percent done but time will tell if there are any more incomings and if United have enough quantity and quality in their back line.
Jordan Stevens has potential
United’s travelling squad to Australia essentially featured 11 first teamers plus five youngsters of which Bogusz clearly took centre stage.
Of the 11 more senior players, special mention should also go to full-backs Barry Douglas and especially Stuart Dallas who were both excellent against Western Sydney with Douglas hopefully looking to have a better second season at Leeds and Dallas very muich looking in the groove bombing forward from right-back.
After Roofe had gone off injured, the latter stages of the second half also featured Dallas linking up with 19-year-old winger Stevens who looked sharp and full of ideas on the right flank, doing his claims of being involved in a more regular basis no harm at all.
Even as it was, Stevens made the bench on a few occasions last season with the winger also making his Whites debut as a second-half substitute in the 2-1 loss at Stoke in January.
Bielsa then spoke about Stevens’ talents a couple of months later when the teen appeared on the bench in the Championship clash at Preston North End and the former Forest Green Rovers man looks to have plenty to offer Leeds.
Competition on the wings is rife with Jack Harrison looking very lively in both games Down Under and looking assured of starting on the left wing but Stevens looks a definite option when needed from the bench.
Pablo Hernandez still blooming
Saving the best until last and there is absolutely no doubting the current well-being of Hernandez who, if anything, looks better than ever aged 34.
In all those years, the Spaniard will not have scored many goals better than his 95th-minute winner against Western Sydney Wanderers in which the midfield magician really did take matters into his own hands, cutting inside and beating four men before launching a rising shot into the top left corner.
Hernandez clearly needs looking after given his age but there were absolutely no signs of his legs going despite the full 90 minutes against both Manchester United and Western Sydney and the Spaniard said himself last season that he believed he was actually still improving under Bielsa.
If Hernandez’s 2019-20 is better than last season then Leeds are in for a treat and a fit and firing Hernandez is clearly crucial to United’s promotion bid next term.