What a win over Newcastle United would and wouldn't do for Leeds United

A penny for the thoughts of Andrea Radrizzani and Victor Orta as they watched two Leeds United players limp off at the London Stadium.

By Graham Smyth
Thursday, 20th January 2022, 8:53 am

The Whites’ majority owner was in the capital to watch a thrilling game of Premier League football between his club and one operating at a level he hopes to reach.

West Ham have, under David Moyes, swapped relegation scraps for European fare and, with less than half of the current season to go, they still appear to be riding the momentum created by the last one.

That is something Leeds cannot say, given how impressively they finished the 2020/21 campaign and how much of a struggle they found the first half of this season. Instead, it’s easy to argue that they went backwards, with goals and victories so hard to come by.

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A harder second season amid the elite was anticipated by players and those behind the scenes at Elland Road yet the scale of the difficulty and the injuries picked up must have come as a shock.

But with two wins, two huge wins at that, from their last two Premier League games, Leeds have started to inch their way forward again and victory over Newcastle United on Saturday would really get them rolling.

It would create a healthy degree of separation between the Whites and their visitors. It would send Elland Road into raptures and ease nerves.

What it would not do is mask the need for recruitment this month.

INJURY DOUBT - Junior Firpo, pictured here getting treatment for a head knock in the FA Cup at West Ham a week before limping off with a hamstring problem at the same venue, is one of several injury victims at Leeds United. Pic: Getty

Both Radrizzani and Orta must have been delighted, relieved men at full-time on Sunday because to win there at all was huge for the club but to do so having had to send on a pair of unproven debutants for Adam Forshaw and Junior Firpo was remarkable. The feelgood factor remained as Forshaw revealed his hamstring problem was small, perhaps even small enough to allow him to play this weekend against Newcastle.

Marcelo Bielsa will provide an update on the extent of Junior Firpo’s problem this afternoon, but any kind of absence at all will either necessitate the moving of Stuart Dallas to left-back or the placing of trust in 18-year-old Leo Hjelde. Neither of those options are a cause for fear, Dallas is once again in good form and Hjelde’s performance in London was perfectly fine.

With Pascal Struijk fit to partner Diego Llorente in defence and Robin Koch able to play in defensive midfield, Lewis Bate can come in to play alongside Mateusz Klich if Forshaw isn’t fit and Rodrigo adds to the midfield options as he builds his way back towards match fitness.

Given the way those we presume to be available this weekend played in London, Leeds aren’t looking too shabby at all. The problem is this, however, injuries have been rife this season and there’s nothing to say that all the players returning to full health and all those currently fit will stay that way.

This may feel like a particularly negative way to view the situation and you could point to the two-week break that’s almost upon us which will give the current crop of absentees more time to heal without missing fixtures but, as Forshaw and Koch’s hip problems, Rodrigo heel issue, Struijk’s foot complaint and Bamford’s ankle injury proved, comebacks can take longer than first expected. Complications can arise. And Covid still lurks.

It has felt, at times this season, like Bielsa has been only a late tackle or overextended stretch away from disaster, so the addition of Brenden Aaronson would be a welcome boost and some added insurance. Most would look at this squad and consider one signing the absolute minimum requirement for this window’s business. An injury to Illan Meslier would be troubling with Kristoffer Klaesson yet to completely convince with his 23s performances, at least not to the standard the club's number one set when he was back-up to Kiko Casilla. At left-back, the club still look light, even if Struijk and Hjelde have filled in well on a couple of occasions. At present the club appear to be focusing entirely on one man for one vacancy though - Aaronson.

That will not be an easy transfer to pull off, though, and, at the time of writing, there appears to be some distance between Leeds and the positive result they want. If they cannot persuade Salzburg to part with the midfielder and end the window without strengthening, there’s no doubt they’re taking a risk, even if things look far rosier for them than enough of their Premier League rivals to consider them in mild rather than serious peril.

What is certain is that there will be no meltdown from the head coach if no new bodies arrive. Two years ago with the January window approaching its end, the same was being said with regards to Bielsa’s attacking options. The accepted wisdom was that they needed a striker and, in Jean-Kevin Augustin, they got one before discovering, through a combination of his inability to get up to speed after injury and the form of Patrick Bamford, that he was completely surplus to requirements.

It’s a real possibility that Leeds’ second half of the season will tell a similar tale, that the squad Bielsa considered an adequate sufficiency was exactly that.

As Radrizzani saw for himself on Sunday, the squad was enough at West Ham but against all odds. Anything he can do to even the odds for the rest of the season would feel like responsible ownership, given the potential consequences if they fail to act.

Leeds have 11 days to strengthen the squad, if not the XI, and they're definitely trying to make it happen. Not everyone will share Bielsa’s contentment if they don’t.