Leeds United Talking Points: Kemar Roofe’s leading man status ... Ronaldo Vieira’s fitness ... and who will make way for Samuel Saiz?

OUCH: Leeds United's Ronaldo Viera is caught by a late lunge by Burton Albion's Tom Naylor. Picture by Tony Johnson.
OUCH: Leeds United's Ronaldo Viera is caught by a late lunge by Burton Albion's Tom Naylor. Picture by Tony Johnson.
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AFTER seeing Leeds United exorcise their Pirelli Stadium demons with victory over Burton Albion on Boxing Day, the YEP’s Lee Sobot addresses a few key areas before the Whites return to action at the weekend with a trip to bottom club Birmingham City.

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Pablo Hernandez tussles with Burton's Tom Flanagan. Picture: Tony Johnson.

Pablo Hernandez tussles with Burton's Tom Flanagan. Picture: Tony Johnson.

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Who will make way for Samu Saiz?

United’s magic man Spanish No 10 Saiz missed his second game in succession with a calf injury at the Pirelli and for the second game running his no 10 ‘deputy’ Pablo Hernandez played a pivotal part in bagging United all three points.

Hernandez might not have the legs of Saiz who is six years his junior but Hernandez is in fine form at present and even when Saiz returns it will surely be difficult to leave him out of the team.

WHAT THE? Eunan O'Kane shows his puzzlement after having his shorts pulled down by Burton goalkeeper Stephen Bywater. Picture: Tony Johnson.

WHAT THE? Eunan O'Kane shows his puzzlement after having his shorts pulled down by Burton goalkeeper Stephen Bywater. Picture: Tony Johnson.

Whites head coach Thomas Christiansen has said that Saiz will be back for Saturday’s trip to Birmingham City - though admittedly the Dane said the same before the Burton game - but either way Saiz’s return is clearly imminent.

That’s fantastic news for Leeds who will be even more potent with their star front man playing but it means that one of Hernandez, Pawel Cibicki or Gjanni Alioski will have to drop out of the side.

With Hernandez in such sparkling form and seemingly likely to be played as a winger, that might mean a toss up between Alioski and recent revelation Cibicki, both of whom are natural, pacy wingers, unlike Hernandez.

Another conundrum for Christiansen – which will become even more complex when Northern Ireland international winger Stuart Dallas finally returns from his ankle injury – but a welcome headache to have.

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Will Ronaldo Vieira be fit for the Birmingham game?

Vieira was the victim of a crunching and dangerous second-half tackle by Burton’s Tom Naylor, a challenge which left Vieira needing treatment before the midfielder soldiered on.

But the teenager was finally substituted for Kalvin Phillips in the 77th minute and Christiansen admitted afterwards that Vieira was on the treatment table after the game and that he had definitely taken a knock.

Vieira is made of strong stuff and might be fine but there naturally has to be an element of doubt as to whether he will be 100 per cent ready for Saturday’s clash at St Andrew’s.

If not, Phillips is the obvious replacement after losing his place to O’Kane for the Boxing Day clash at Burton.

Can Kemar Roofe lead the United line for the rest of the season?

Roofe was given the nod over the recently returning Pierre-Michel Lasogga in the lone striker role and Roofe delivered the goods by clinically netting the game’s winning goal four minutes after Hernandez’s stunning free-kick.

After quiet outings at home to Norwich City and Hull City, Roofe produced another lively display away from home, two and a half weeks after netting a hat-trick in the 3-1 win at QPR.

So can Roofe keep Lasogga out of the team and more to the point do United need to try and sign another striker in January in any case?

Lasogga did not offer a great deal when coming on as a 75th-minute substitute for Cibicki as Roofe shifted out wide and United’s other main striker option Caleb Ekuban will be out with his foot injury until the end of January.

With teenage Dutch striker Jay-Roy Grot clearly still very green and with Ekuban bound to take time to return to full fitness, Leeds remain very short in that department and chasing another striker would seem sensible though Roofe is certainly making a good fist of making the lone striker role his own.

There is no doubting Roofe’s movement or finishing, just his consistency and ability to hold the ball up in the lone striker role though even the far more physical Lasogga failed to excel that department at Burton.

Roofe could also do with netting a few more league goals at Elland Road (just one against Burton so far this season) - but at present he quite clearly remains United’s first choice striker and a chance to terrorise Birmingham’s leaky defence will be next in the offing at St Andrew’s.

Can Leeds continue to close the gap to second?

With four wins in a row, five wins in six and 19 points out of a last possible 24 or 16 out of 18, Leeds are clearly on a roll.

First things first, the gap to the teams outside of the play-offs was extended to four points through the win at Burton but with Cardiff City again losing at home to Fulham, Leeds slashed the gap to the automatic promotion places to just five points with Bristol City now second after their 2-0 victory at home to Reading.

Like Leeds, the Robins have now win five of their last six.

But United are looking at a kinder set of upcoming fixtures than City who host leaders Wolves on Saturday before travelling to Aston Villa on New Year’s Day.

Cardiff, who are now level on points with the Robins, host in-form Preston on Saturday before visiting QPR on New Year’s Day while fourth-placed Derby County who are three points above Leeds travel to tenth-placed Ipswich Town on Saturday before entertaining sixth-placed Sheffield United on New Year’s Day.

In short, if Leeds can pick up six points from their next two games then the gap is likely to be shortened further and Saturday’s trip to rock-bottom crisis club Birmingham City and the hosting of 13th-placed Nottingham Forest on New Year’s Day are both clearly very winnable games.

Even after the FA Cup game at Newport in January, Ipswich away, Millwall at home and Hull away are three more games in which Leeds should fancy their chances and either Derby or Bristol City will drop points when the two teams face each other on Friday, January 19 at Pride Park.

Leeds are looking at potentially very tricky February and early March with Cardiff, Bristol City and Wolves among those all coming to Elland Road and with trips to Sheffield United, Derby and Middlesbrough in the offing.

But that’s not to say that the Whites should not be able to hold their own in those games and in any case, now is the opportunity to make hay while the sun shines.

On current form and looking at the fixtures, there is every reason to expect Leeds to be even closer to second place in January.

Jamal Blackman.

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