It’s impossible to know whether Simon Grayson planned to go 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 next season but the injury to Luciano Becchio will probably make that decision for him.
Leeds United have plenty of attacking resources in their squad but, in my view, Becchio is the only player at Elland Road with the attributes and attitude to make a serious impact as a lone striker. It’s a specialist position in which he always excels.
The likes of Ross McCormack, Billy Paynter and Davide Somma are more suited to having another forward alongside them, and persisting with the system that Simon employed so effectively last season was always dependent on Becchio being fit, available and in form. Sadly, he’s heading for a spell on the sidelines.
It’s not clear yet how long Becchio will be out for but losing him for any number of games is a major disappointment. He was one of the club’s best performers last season, and that campaign was hardly a flash in the pan. Over the past three years he’s been consistent and effective and you can always rely on him for goals. He’s one of last players who Simon would have wanted to lose at this stage of the summer.
Somma, in comparison, is a quality finisher with a lot more to come but he doesn’t yet have Becchio’s all-round game. It would always have been a frustration to see either striker get injured but Becchio is clearly the bigger loss. That’s no slight on Somma, merely an acknowledgment of how effective Becchio has been at Elland Road.
Now that Becchio has had an operation, questions will be asked about why he wasn’t sent for surgery at the end of last season. The club obviously considered that option but I think it’s unfair to say that the decision they took was a mistake. We’ve got highly professional medical and physiotherapist staff at Leeds and they’ll have examined his injury very closely. The consensus was clearly that a period of rest would allow him to recover and time is often the best healer.
With hindsight, they’ll be wishing that they’d bitten the bullet and sent Becchio for an operation but it’s easy to be clever after the event. Very few injuries are clear-cut problems and you’ll always get the odd one which surprises you or turns out to be more serious than first thought.
In any case, I’m crossing my fingers that Becchio’s tendon problem isn’t too bad and it doesn’t sound like he’s looking at the same period of absence as Somma. Of course it’s a setback but we’re all hoping that he’ll be back before long. It doesn’t need to be a crippling handicap.
What you rely on and expect now is for other players to step up and take the chance in front of them. You never want to see a team-mate injured but, in this situation, one man’s poison is another man’s medicine. The likes of Paynter and McCormack should be telling themselves that now’s the time to make an impression and start banging the goals in.
I’ve heard it said that Simon should sign a new striker to cover for Becchio and Somma but the truth is that the squad at Leeds has other options in it.
At the most, Simon probably needs a short-term loan. Otherwise, we could find ourselves in the position of having Becchio fit again and a loanee in his squad who isn’t going to get a game. It’s a natural reaction to rush into signing someone but sometimes it’s better to take stock and work with the assets you’ve got.