Leeds United: Christiansen faces selection posers head-on

Samuel Saiz. PIC: Tony Johnson
Samuel Saiz. PIC: Tony Johnson
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HEAD COACH Thomas Christiansen is keen to endure regular headaches at Leeds United – if caused by continually deliberating over his first-choice squad and team.

Christiansen highlighted the options at his disposal in pre-season when naming 16 substitutes for the club’s final pre-season friendly against Oxford United.

Leeds United's Caleb Ekuban. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Leeds United's Caleb Ekuban. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe

After deciding his first-choice XI for Sunday’s Championship opener at Bolton Wanderers, the Dane then made nine changes to his side for Wednesday night’s first-round Carabao Cup clash against Port Vale which resulted in a pleasing 4-1 success.

Four players – Samuel Saiz, Caleb Ekuban, Mateusz Klich and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson – made their Whites’ debuts while Vurnon Ainita and Conor Shaugnessy made their full Whites’ debuts after featuring against Bolton off the bench.

Of the new faces, hat-trick hero Saiz was particularly impressive, piling pressure on Christiansen to drop fellow no10 Pablo Hernandez for Saturday’s Championship clash against Preston North End at Elland Road.

Borthwick-Jackson also enjoyed a fine debut at left-back, a position occupied in good style by Anita after Gaateno Berardi became injured in the clash at Bolton.

Cameron Borthwick-Jackson in action for Leeds United against Port Vale. PIC: Tony Johnson

Cameron Borthwick-Jackson in action for Leeds United against Port Vale. PIC: Tony Johnson

It leaves Christiansen facing some tough decisions and potentially reaching for the paracetamols but the selection puzzle is very much desired by United’s head coach.

Reflecting on Wednesday night’s debutants, Christiansen reasoned: “There were several and I am very happy for them.

“It’s important that they still keep giving me headaches when I have to make the XI and the squad for the games.

“It’s a situation that is difficult for me to leave players out but this is my responsibility and I have to take that as it comes.

“I will make mistakes, leaving some players out and bringing some others in but I try to minimise that and always, all of my decisions will be focused on the team – not a personal decision of ego or because one player is better than the other.

“From my point of view, it’s always looking for the best for the team, for the squad, and these decisions are always taken like that.”

Probably Christiansen’s biggest dilemma will be whether or not to start Saiz just three days after bagging a brilliant hat-trick on his debut.

Rather like fellow new recruit Mateusz Klich, who endured a muscle injury in pre-season, Christiansen had previously stressed that Saiz’s fitness would improve as he settled into life with the Whites.

“He’s a player who needs his time,” said Christiansen

“He’s a player who enjoys being with the ball.

“You will see it, if we have possession, if we move the ball he has a quality, he is intelligent and has good finishing also.

“But it’s not only that. You also need to work and we need to work on that also but I was very pleased with his performance.”

Saiz and Hernandez will now wait to see who gets the nod for Saturday’s clash against Preston in which Christiansen will be faced with a rather different Elland Road atmosphere to what the 44-year-old has been used to so far.

A crowd of 13,295 witnessed the pre-season friendly against Oxford while 15,431 were present for the Carabao Cup success against Vale.

Christiansen, though, can expect double that figure and more for the Preston game which is heading towards a complete sell-out.

“It will be nice,” smiled Christiansen.

“But I hope it will be nicer after the game with a good result.”