AFTER seeing Leeds United fail to break down ten-man Preston North End, Lee Sobot looks at a few key talking points from Saturday’s Championship goalless draw at Elland Road.
What is United’s plan B?
It is difficult to be too critical of United’s display on Saturday as Leeds created plenty of chances to win the game and Preston’s goalkeeper Chris Maxwell proved in fine form.
It has to be said, though, that prior to Ben Pearson’s sending off, the Whites were disappointing and North End completely bossed the first 15 minutes of the second half, by which time they should have been in front.
And it appears pretty unclear as to what United’s plan B is, aside from introducing Samuel Saiz from the bench or changing wingers.
Head coach Thomas Christiansen has wisely kept to the same 4-2-3-1 formation that worked so well under Garry Monk last term and whenever Monk shifted to a different formation it by and large failed to work.
But Christiansen will have even more joy than Monk if he can work the oracle with a back-up plan in the moments of need such as Saturday’s.
Even when Saiz and Ronaldo Vieira were introduced for Kemar Roofe and Kalvin Phillips in the 61st minute, Leeds kept to the same formation, with Pablo Hernandez shifting to the wing and Saiz moving to no 10.
Left winger Stuart Dallas was then brought on as the final substitute for impressive left-back Cameron Borthwick-Jackson with eight minutes to go as United basically went three at the back and flooded the midfield.
But second striker Caleb Ekuban stayed on the bench and perhaps his introduction and a second forward may have been a better call.
A tough one and it’s back to the old debate of can this Leeds team succeed in a 4-4-2 or something similar?
Is it time to change the midfield?
Monk continually chopped and changed his central midfield pairings last term and Christiansen looked to have found the solution by partnering a rejuvenated Eunan O’Kane alongside Kalvin Phillips for the season opener against Bolton.
But Preston’s midfield proved much more difficult to dominate and it was no real surprise when Phillips was taken off for Vieira in the 61st minute, after which Leeds improved though it must be remembered that by then Whites were playing against ten men.
Nevertheless, after taking a softly-softly approach with Vieira after his busy summer with England under-19s, the teenager is now evidently very high up in Christiansen’s immediate plans and there are plenty of calls for Vieira to start in Tuesday night’s home clash with Fulham.
Plus Leeds have three other very viable options in Vurnon Anita, Liam Bridcutt and Mateusz Klich.
There is also a big debate as to whether Saiz should have started at no 10 rather than Hernandez and Saiz attempted to work the oracle once brought on.
But Preston proved a different ball game to Port Vale and it was Hernandez who set up United’s best chance of the same in Wood’s one-on-one.
Still, surely time for a change of some sorts against Fulham.
It’s impossible to analyse Saturday’s game and United’s current predicament without talking about the rejected £12m bid for striker Chris Wood from Burnley, and a rumoured further rejected bid of £16m from a different club in the Premier League.
So what happens now? Will United ultimately sell if further bigger bids are forthcoming and if so at what price? If they do, who should be brought in to replace him? And if Leeds hold firm, as expected, should the Whites be bringing in another striker anyway?
Football is about opinions but surely if United let Wood go, even for £16m or slightly more, then the club are quite obviously going to need to find a top-notch replacement.
Unless United get lucky and unearth a hidden gem, that will not come cheap so would there really be any point in selling?
Wood is also still only 25 years old and no doubt still has his best to come.
The New Zealand international is settled at Leeds, knows the team and his surroundings inside out and is integral to United’s prospects this season, even if the 25-year-old had a rare off day on Saturday, especially when missing a one on one.
More to the point, Leeds need to be adding another striker, not selling one, and the club continue to be linked with Hamburg striker Pierre-Michel Lasogga. There are now 18 days until the summer transfer window slams shut at 11pm on Thursday, August 31 and loans are not even possible after this date.
Keep Wood - at all costs within reasonable sensibility - and sign another centre-back and striker looks the obvious call.
Striker-wise, a young, up and coming goal-getter and somebody who would not expect to start each week would be ideal, unless Christiansen plans on shifting more towards a 4-4-2.