THE SEARCH for a new striker has been the story of this summer’s transfer window as far as Leeds United are concerned.
The club have been determined to strengthen in several positions but the quest to bag a new targetman has dominated the headlines.
That quest looks set to be ended imminently with Patrick Bamford undergoing a medical today with a view to a £7m move from Middlesbrough.
As Bamford prepared to arrive in Leeds, last season’s top scorer Kemar Roofe was chosen to lead the Whites’ line in the club’s final pre-season friendly against Spanish Segunda Division side Las Palmas at Elland Road. After squandering United’s only real chance of the first half, Roofe bagged the only goal of the game with just four minutes left.
And amidst the backdrop of United’s striker search, the club’s friendly also brought focus on a new-look back three that passed their Spanish assignment with flying colours.
After using various formations during this summer’s pre-season friendlies, all eyes were on new Whites head coach Marcelo Bielsa’s choice of system for the friendly which would clearly provide the best idea yet of the Argentinian’s plans for the forthcoming campaign.
As it was, Bielsa had to do without three key players with new left-back Barry Douglas not starting training until Monday as he returned to the Midlands on Sunday to say his goodbyes to former colleagues at Wolves.
Talisman centre-back Pontus Jansson was still missing following his exploits with Sweden in the World Cup while United midfielder Adam Forshaw was another absentee after feeling discomfort in his toe in training on Friday.
Forshaw was pictured with a protective boot on as his team-mates faced Las Palmas and the quicker he is back the better. Without Forshaw, Jansson and Douglas and with Chelsea loanees Lewis Baker and Jamal Blackman only making the bench, United’s starting XI looked similar to the side that finished last season under Paul Heckingbottom in personnel.
Yet Bielsa’s Leeds lined up in a very different fashion with ‘midfielder’ Kalvin Phillips partnering captain Liam Cooper and Gaetano Berardi at centre-back as Luke Ayling and Stuart Dallas were deployed as wing-backs and with Bailey Peacock-Farrell given the nod in goal. Ronaldo Vieira sat in front of the back four in centre midfield with Gjanni Alioski and Pablo Hernandez wider and behind Samu Saiz at no 10 and Roofe in the lone striker role. A very different system and a different style of play with Bielsa’s Whites attempting to play crisp-passing football.
In truth, United failed to create many clear-cut chances and their only chance of the first half fell to Roofe who put his effort wide on the stretch to meet a fine Ayling cross.
Las Palmas, meanwhile, were extremely unlucky to see two fine free-kicks from Fidel taken from opposite sides both hit the crossbar.
But that aside, United’s new-look back line coped easily with everything that Las Palmas threw at them with Leeds only needing that creative spark to break their Spanish visitors down. Tyler Roberts threatened to bring that spark on the left flank when brought on for Alioski just after the hour while both Mateusz Klich and Baker had positive impacts after coming on for Vieira and Samu Saiz respectively at half-time.
After huffing and puffing and despite a couple of decent attempts from Hernandez, United’s final friendly looked destined to peter out into a goalless draw.
Yet ‘the Roofe was raised’ four minutes from time when last season’s top scorer forced a corner taken by Hernandez whose delivery was nodded down by Phillips to find Roofe towards the far post. The 25-year-old then turned two defenders with some neat footwork before producing a rising finish inside the near post in front of the Kop.
That was that, enough to seal victory in United’s final pre-season friendly though the lack of chances created throughout the 90 minutes clearly highlighted that further recruits would be helpful to United’s cause.
Las Palmas were clearly a technically decent side who were playing La Liga football last season in finishing second bottom though how they would fare in the Championship is anyone’s guess.
It is then, next Sunday’s season opener against title favourites Stoke City that will provide the acid test and the six days that preceed it in the transfer market will be crucial to how United fare.
Leeds United: Peacock-Farrell, Ayling, Cooper, Berardi, Dallas, Phillips, Vieira (Klich 45), Saiz (Baker 45, Shackleton 88), Alioski (Roberts 64), Hernandez, Roofe. Subs not used: Huffer, Blackman, Pearce.
Las Palmas: Fernandez, Garcia, Castro, Mir, Araujo, Lemos, Fidel, J. Castellano, Cala, D. Castellano, Fabio. Subs: Perez, Gomez, Momo, Deivid, Benito, Tana, Espiau, Suarez, Josep, Curbelo, Exposito, Josemi, Parras.
Referee: Andy Madley.