Brian McDermott once spent an international break tearing up Leeds United’s team and starting again. He emerged from a badly-needed interlude with a new plan and a better sense of purpose.
This empty fortnight has asked less of Uwe Rosler. United’s head coach wanted to use the time to drill his squad and reinforce existing ideas but Leeds have not been looking for urgent measures. A rare win at Derby County and a performance worthy of that result allowed Rosler to believe that his methods are starting to pay off.
With Brentford at home looming on Saturday, the 46-year-old appears to have one key decision to make: to either back Sam Byram in the midst of a mediocre patch of form or to let United’s latest signing, Jordan Botaka, loose on the right wing.
Botaka is back in England after joining up with Congo’s national side for an African Cup of Nations qualifier on Sunday. He spent time briefly in Leeds last week, undergoing a medical and finalising his transfer from Excelsior, but his career with United will begin in earnest in the next few days. He tweeted yesterday about letting “this new adventure start.”
The 22-year-old was the last of Leeds’ summer signings and a genuine investment at a cost of around £1million. Rosler wanted a player of Botaka’s ilk – a specialist out-and-out winger, similar to Stuart Dallas – and the transfer has given United’s boss the freedom to play two of them against Brentford this weekend, either side of striker Chris Wood.
Dallas, who is coming up against his former club on Saturday, integrated himself rapidly during his first month at Elland Road. The Northern Ireland international – a £1.3m signing from Brentford at the beginning of August – had a firm hand in Leeds’ win at Derby before the beginning of the international break, laying on the opening goal for Tom Adeyemi. His position is unlikely to be immediately threatened by Botaka’s arrival.
Byram’s form has been less convincing and it is there that Rosler’s major call lies. The 21-year-old was the pick of United’s players in pre-season and looked happy with the attempt to refashion him as the right-sided player in a front three. Rosler called him “very influential” during the summer and was never tempted to pull Byram back from that position.
The German, nonetheless, shares the view – held by many – that Byram will play out most of his career as a defender, the role he has occupied at Leeds for the past three seasons. Speaking in July, Rosler said that Byram would “probably in my view be a right-back in the long term” but the youngster’s attacking mindset allowed him to play in a “position where we need him to play.”
At that stage Rosler was working towards a 4-3-3 formation without a single recognised winger. Byram’s ability to cope on the right flank left Rosler to worry more about the other side of the pitch. Souleymane Doukara and Casper Sloth were used to limited effect before United put up a seven-figure sum at bring in Dallas from Brentford. Though right-footed himself, Dallas occupied the left wing last month while Byram tried to work his way into form.
Byram’s display against Burnley on the first day of the season was man-of-the-match material but his impact waned as August wore on. Against the backdrop of fresh discussions about his contract – a deal which runs out next summer and shows no sign of being extended – his influence dipped noticeably.
Rosler substituted him after less than an hour of a 1-1 draw with Sheffield Wednesday and replaced him 20 minutes before the end of their 2-1 win at Derby. Moved to the right against Wednesday, Dallas served up United’s equaliser.
The manner of Leeds’ performance at Pride Park and the significance of the result – a first victory away at Derby after seven successive defeats – might dissuade Rosler from changing anything ahead of Saturday’s meeting with Brentford. He is also disinclined to run with players until they are up to speed with his tactics and his standards of fitness. But against a club who are leaking goals and struggling to thrive in the Championship as they did last season, Botaka’s pace and reputed trickery is giving him another option.
Botaka played for Excelsior right up until his transfer to Elland Road, turning out for the Dutch club on the same day as Leeds beat Derby. A fee was already agreed at that point and a two-year contract was almost in place but Botaka made a final appearance regardless. United will assess his match fitness fully when the players report for training at Thorp Arch tomorrow.
Dallas is also due back from Belfast after starting Northern Ireland’s Euro 2016 qualifier against Hungary on Monday night while midfielder Lewis Cook featured as a late substitute for England’s Under-19s against Croatia in Zagreb.