Leeds United: Defiant Jansson makes case for the defence

Pontus Jansson. PIC: Bruce Rollinson
Pontus Jansson. PIC: Bruce Rollinson

leeds UNITED looked to be approaching the current campaign dangerously low on centre-backs.

Liam Cooper, Matthew Pennington and cult hero Pontus Jansson appear United’s only natural options in one of the most crucial areas of the field.

Matthew Pennington. PIC: Tony Johnson

Matthew Pennington. PIC: Tony Johnson

Three, though, in Jansson’s eyes, is in reality five with the defender instantly impressed with the full league debut of Conor Shaughnessy while not forgetting Luke Ayling’s flexibility at the back.

The Swede is consequently confident that contrary to initial fears, United have no need to recruit another centre-back before the end of the month.

Defensive rock Jansson started the new campaign suspended after picking up 15 yellow cards last term with new head coach Thomas Christiansen partnering Cooper with new Everton loanee Matthew Pennington for the club’s opening weekend trip to Bolton.

United’s centre-back options then appeared thinner than ever when Pennington picked up an ankle injury and had to be replaced by 21-year-old Shaughnessy – a player who failed to make one appearance for previous club Reading and was recognised more as a natural midfielder.

Liam Cooper. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Liam Cooper. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Conceding a penalty within three minutes of coming on was hardly the ideal start to league football with Leeds for Shaughnessy who was then thrust into a full league debut for Tuesday night’s hosting of Fulham after Cooper also became injured.

There was an argument to suggest that with Pennington and Cooper injured, Jansson was the club’s only fit and available centre-back.

Yet the Swede was among those hugely impressed by Shaughnessy’s sparkling full debut against the Cottagers which Jansson says is proof that Leeds have more options in that department than initially envisaged.

With Ayling also capable of shifting from right-back to play in the centre of defence, Jansson believes United need not look for reinforcements in that area before the summer transfer window closes at the end of the month.

“I don’t think we are going to need one more,” Jansson told the YEP. “Matthew has shown how good he is as he started the season really well.

“And Conor was really good in the last game. I don’t want to say Conor is number four (fourth choice) but if you have a number four he has to be young, he has to be talented and a man for the future.

“You don’t have to get a player on loan only for one season to be number four. It is better to have a young player from around the Academy and if there is any trouble then we can also have Luke in the centre.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a problem and I don’t think we need another defender.”

To add credence to Jansson’s views, United have now kept two clean sheets in succession with Jansson and Cooper keeping out Preston North End at Elland Road on Saturday before Jansson and Shaughnessy kept much-vaunted Fulham at bay three days later.

United are still yet to reveal the extent of the injuries to Pennington and Cooper, who suffered a problem in training in the run up to the Fulham clash.

Christiansen is hopeful that Cooper has a chance of recovering for this Saturday’s Championship clash at Sunderland.

In the meantime, based on his display against Fulham, Jansson says that Shaughnessy has already proved himself more than capable ‘back up’.

“I feel really happy to play with him,” said Jansson.

“I felt happy after the game too, also for myself that I could take care of him and help him have a good appearance.

“He is good. I haven’t seen him so much and last year he was training with some training squad. This year he has been really good. I heard also that he was a midfielder before and that was not an easy game against Fulham, one of the toughest games in the league and he did it so good. I am happy for him.”

The extent of Pennington’s ankle injury is still unclear but even from one appearance against Bolton, Jansson has been highly impressed.

Leeds signed 22-year-old Pennington on a season-long loan from Everton at the beginning of August and Jansson says the young Toffees defender is a similar type of player to Manchester United’s new Swedish recruit Victor Lindelöf who cost £31m. Lindelöf is a player Jansson knows well through his exploits with the Swedish national side.

“Matthew is good and when I see him he is a bit of Victor Lindelöf who is at Manchester United,” said Jansson. “I play with him in the national team.

“They are quite similar in how they play, quite fast, good with the ball and defensively also really good. He is going to be good for us.”

It means Jansson is confident that United’s defence is in good shape as far as the rest of the season is concerned, especially with Jansson himself hoping to avoid the spate of suspensions picked up in his first season at Leeds. The Swede picked up 15 yellow cards last season but will make a strong effort to pick considerably fewer this term.

“I said to myself, under ten,” smiled Jansson. “I said first under five but that’s going to be tough. Some types of free-kicks and tactical I am going to have to have one of course but I have to be a bit more clever this year and not give away silly yellow cards. I have started good, two games...it’s been a challenge! But it’s a good start.”