AFTER seeing Leeds United begin their 2017-18 Championship campaign with a 3-2 victory at Bolton Wanderers, Lee Sobot looks at a few key talking points from the triumph at Macron Stadium.
How long will Matthew Pennington and Gaetano Berardi be out for?
Victory at Bolton definitely came at a cost with Berardi dislocating his shoulder and Pennington hobbling off with an ankle injury. Chris Wood aside, the one area United could ill afford any injuries occurring in was defence and two arrived in quick succession. It can only be hoped that neither will be out for the long term though clearly a dislocated shoulder could mean a lengthy absence for Berardi who was replaced at left back by another right-footed player in Vurnon Anita. Thankfully, Anita took to the position like a duck to water and in any case United have now sealed the loan signature of another left back in the shape of Manchester United’s Cameron Borthwick-Jackson. Perhaps more of a concern then is the injury to Pennington who had excelled until hobbling off injured, even drawing comparisons to Jonathan Woodgate. Pontus Jansson will thankfully be back from suspension for Saturday’s home clash with Preston and the Swede looks set to partner Liam Cooper assuming Pennington will be injured. But thereafter, United’s centre back options then concern just Luke Ayling and Conor Shaughnessy and neither are naturals. Leeds need good news on Pennington or another centre back option recruiting pronto. Or ideally both.
What will happen with Stuart Dallas and Liam Bridcutt?
The absence of three players in particular stood out on Sunday with Dallas, Bridcutt and Ronaldo Vieira all omitted from the match-day 18. Vieira’s lack of involvement is likely down to the teenager having a busy summer with England’s under-19s and head coach Thomas Christiansen easing the midfielder back into action. Nevertheless, it was a surprise not to see Vieira at least on the bench. On the contrary, it came as no real surprise to see last season’s captain Bridcutt not involved given both his inconsistent season last term and also the rumours circulating on Sunday that he had not travelled to Bolton. Christiansen revealed afterwards that Bridcutt’s omission was tactical and that the midfielder was still in his plans but it is very hard to see the 28-year-old pushing his way up the pecking order above Eunan O’Kane, Kalvin Phillips and even Vieira and Mateusz Klich when match fit. Not to mention the fact that Anita can also play centre midfield - his most natural position. The decision to leave out Dallas was also tactical but that one is rather more baffling, with Hadi Sacko preferred on the bench. Sacko has pace to burn but the winger had a frustrating time of things once introduced as a late substitute and Dallas is surely a better option at present with Sacko still struggling failing to find an end product. Dallas will likely get his chance to prove a point in Wednesday night’s Carabao Cup tie against Port Vale at Elland Road and the 26-year-old will be keen to impress. Souleymane Doukara and Marcus Antonsson were also missing from the match-day 18 and the duo appear some way from getting a run in Christiansen’s Championship first team.
Who will be ‘club’ captain?
Liam Cooper donned the skipper’s armband at Bolton and did a damn good job, both of captaining the side and marshalling the defence, especially after Berardi and Pennington had gone off injured. But whether Cooper will be appointed ‘club captain’ as such looks doubtful, even if Bridcutt’s days at Leeds are numbered. Cooper, after all, is still probably behind Pennington and definitely Pontus Jansson in the centre-back pecking order through the former Chesterfield player certainly showed his worth with a strong showing at the Macron. But the obvious conclusion to be drawn is that Jansson is about to be appointed club captain. After all, if Christiansen was going to name another candidate as club captain such as Chris Wood or O’Kane then surely they would have worn the armband at Bolton. So are we staring at the obvious of Jansson returning to the line up against Preston on Saturday and with the captain’s armband? Cooper as vice and Jansson as captain is the obvious assumption. Yet Chrsitiansen again said in his post-match press conference that his side had four or five captains and perhaps the Dane is not fussed about appointing a club captain as such, however unusual that would seem. As such, perhaps Cooper will keep the armband, even when Jansson returns this weekend. An odd situation but, essentially, Cooper is captain as things stand.
Can Rob Green win back his place as first choice keeper?
New German recruit Felix Wiedwald was given the nod in goal by Christiansen over Green and that was a very brave call by United’s new head coach considering the excellent form of Green last season, especially in the second half of the campaign. Wiedwald did okay but the German was almost caught out of position in the first half and the former Werder Bremen custodian did not really show the same confidence as Green from crosses and corners. The jury remains out on who should be United’s no 1.
Who should be United’s ‘other’ attacking three?
Probably less open to debate at present is the fact that Kemar Roofe and Gianni Alioski will remain first choice wingers. Roofe was excellent and looks set for a fine second season in the Championship. Alioski also had a good game with the promise of much more to come as he adapts to English football. Pablo Hernandez or Samuel Saiz at no 10 is the other call and Hernandez fully justified Christiansen’s decision to start him with the Spaniard especially impressive in the second half. On that evidence, Saiz will have a job shifting Hernandez from the team but he is another who will likely get the chance to impress against Port Vale. Wood, meanwhile, is the first name on the team-sheet in the lone striker role and is already up and running in his quest to match the 30 goals netted last year. Twenty nine more to go.