Uwe Rosler sought continuity in his team selection towards the end of Leeds United’s pre-season and on Saturday, at home to Burnley, his line-up picked itself.
The club’s head coach has confidence in that side but he will not rely on the same small group to carry United through the first month of the season. Thursday’s League Cup tie at Doncaster Rovers should see the start of what Rosler calls “sensible rotation” of his senior players.
The German created a tight squad over the summer, setting a clear distinction between the first team at Leeds and the club’s development team. Certain young prospects, including Lewis Walters and Lewie Coyle, are training regularly under Rosler at Thorp Arch but have not been registered for first-team fixtures.
“Lewis (Walters) is on a good way and Coyle is on a good way,” Rosler said last month. “But I like hard work over a long time and then you can call yourself a first-team player. That’s the way I’ve always done it.”
The upshot was that on Saturday, ahead of United’s rousing performance against Burnley, Rosler had 18 outfield players available to him. Luke Murphy is back in full training after knee surgery and played for the Under-21s last night and Tommaso Bianchi is due to return from a similar operation next month but Rosler is very conscious of numbers. In a month when Leeds could contest as many as seven competitive games, squad rotation will be part of his plan.
“For Burnley I had 18 outfield players, or 18 first-team players,” said Rosler, who is interested in loaning young Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Milos Veljkovic as cover.
“In the first five weeks of the season we’ve got a possible seven competitive games. For us that’s a tough match programme with the players we have available. I would welcome a quick speedy recovery from Luke and Tommy (Bianchi).
“The way I like to play is intense, quick, transition football. For that you need a certain freshness. That means that a natural part of my philosophy is rotating in a sensible way so the team which stared against Burnley will most likely not be the same team which starts against Doncaster.
“We have a good squad who give me options but when you see on a match programme, we don’t have the biggest squad compared to Burnley. We need a bit of fortune.”
Rosler’s approach could open the door to players like Mirco Antenucci who lit up Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Elland Road with a spectacular goal towards the end of the match.
Antenucci was fielded as a substitute for much of pre-season while Rosler used Chris Wood and Steve Morison to implement his 4-3-3 formation but the Italian made a lively appearance from the bench in United’s final friendly at home to Everton and was used in the same fashion against Burnley. His deft, curling strike on 83 minutes appeared to have won the game before Burnley striker Sam Vokes replied with a clinical header.
United’s first-round tie at Doncaster might also present opportunities to Scott Wootton, Souleymane Doukara and Lee Erwin, the striker who joined Leeds from Motherwell in June. Doukara and Wootton were sent on as late replacements against Burnley, tasked with seeing Leeds safely through five minutes of injury-time. Other players, like newly-signed winger Stuart Dallas who made his debut against Burnley, are more likely to be rested ahead of the weekend.
“We knew that Stuart was a bit behind schedule because he didn’t get enough minutes at Brentford in pre-season,” Rosler said.
“It was a little gamble to start him but he justified his starting place. He made a good impact and could have scored two goals.”
At the back of his mind, Rosler is planning ahead for a busy schedule next week. Leeds visit Reading this Sunday – a game moved back by 24 hours to accommodate a live broadcast of United’s cup game at Doncaster – before travelling to Bristol City next Wednesday. A two-day turnaround will be followed by a 12.30pm kick-off at home to Sheffield Wednesday on August 22.
Asked about the demands of back-to-back visits to the Madejski Stadium and Ashton Gate, Rosler said: “That’s not optimal to be honest. Two away games, back and forward in the country and we don’t have private planes or anything like that. But it’s not a problem, it’s a challenge and we have to deal with it.”
Rosler talked before the Burnley game of focusing on the first month of the season rather than thinking about aims for the entire campaign, and United’s immediate schedule explains his view. He was able, still, to reflect on an encouraging start to the season against Burnley and a performance which satisfied not only Rosler but his chairman, Massimo Cellino.
Leeds drew in a crowd of over 27,000, the highest attendance in the Championship, and Rosler spoke afterwards of working to maintain and improve that figure, saying it was “my responsibility” following a summer of investment in the squad at Elland Road.
“There’s a positive atmosphere around the place,” Rosler said. “We can’t challenge with parachute payments but Mr Cellino has cleared the debt and we can look forward.
“There’s more income coming into the club now and it’s our responsibility, my responsibility, to fill the stadium with the football we play.”