AFTER seeing Leeds United finally record their second win of 2018, Lee Sobot looks at a few key talking points from Saturday’s 2-1 victory against Bolton Wanderers at Elland Road.
Is two upfront the way forward?
Leeds have by and large operated under a lone striker system over the past two seasons bar the odd change, with calls naturally raised to try something different when things are going wrong.
Whites head coach Paul Heckingbottom bit the bullet and opted to play both Pierre Michel-Lasogga and Caleb Ekuban upfront in a 4-4-2 system against Bolton and United definitely looked more of a threat as a result.
For all that he produced a smart finish for his fourth-minute opener, Ekuban clearly needs to be more prolific but there were chances aplenty and Heckingbottom must surely be tempted to stick with a two upfront system from here on in.
The only problem is then fitting Samu Saiz into such a system as Saiz is clearly best operating as a no 10 but in effect having three upfront would clearly leave United very light in midfield.
But there looked to be plenty of promise in the Ekuban/Lasogga partnership though whether Hamburg loanee Lasogga will be here next season is clearly debatable and Ekuban definitely needs to learn to take his chances.
Can Ronaldo Vieira now get back to his best?
Vieira has been something of an enigma this season as big things were clearly expected after his superb first season for Leeds and his glory in the Toulon Tournament with England Under-20s last summer.
Battling tendonitis in his knee has not helped matters but even when selected so far this season, bar the odd performance, Vieira has not reached the heights he is capable of.
But the 19-year-old was arguably United’s best player on Saturday with the teenager no doubt buoyed by his repeat call up to the England Under-20s squad in spite of not really finding form for Leeds.
Vieira showed strength, energy and pace during Saturday’s shift alongside Eunan O’Kane and there is no denying the teenager’s huge potential which can hopefully now be fulfilled and an in-form Vieira is definitely needed right now with Adam Forshaw facing at least two weeks out with a calf strain.
Gjanni Alioski’s commitment
Pontus Jansson and Gjanni Alioski both played the full 90 minutes for Leeds after stints on international duty this week and both put in very good displays with decent shifts from Jansson more or less guaranteed.
Alioski has been somewhat more inconsistent but the Macedonian winger produced a fine display against the Trotters with his pace causing them all sorts of bother and giving Andrew Taylor nightmares.
Furthermore, Heckingbottom revealed afterwards that Alioski only arrived back in England at 2am on Thursday after international duty with the head coach speaking to the winger in between flights from Istanbul to Manchester via Frankfurt.
That is exactly the type of commitment and attitude that United need and Alioski will clearly also benefit on a footballing front from his first season in Championship football.
If he can produce similar displays to Saturday’s on a regular basis then he will be a guaranteed starter on the wing.
As for Jansson, interest in the Swede this summer will be inevitable, especially if he has a decent World Cup, but Jansson is a player that United quite simply have to keep and moreover build the defence around.
Everton loanee Matthew Pennington now looks set to be handed further opportunities alongside Jannson at centre-back with Liam Cooper facing a few more weeks out with a tear in his thigh.
Nine points off the play-offs
Incredibly, despite approaching Saturday’s fixture having taken a measly eight points from their last 14 games, victory put 12th-placed United nine points off the play-offs given the defeats for Middlesbrough and Derby County who appear in freefall.
With just seven games left, United almost certainly have given themselves too much to do but what grates the most is an undoubted missed opportunity this term.
Still, at least United put on a decent display in front of their biggest home gate of the season on ‘bring a friend for free day’ and it is to be hoped that plenty of those friends will be back though much depends really on United’s activity this summer.
A 2-1 win against a pretty poor Bolton side should not disguise the fact that major reinforcements are still needed to compete with the division’s best.
Tuesday night’s trip to Fulham, gulp, will clearly tell us more.
Get Pablo Hernandez signed
Plenty of other Whites players excelled on Saturday with Stuart Dallas putting in a decent shift at right back and Saiz his usual menace when coming off the bench.
And Hernandez again produced the goods with United’s crucial second goal which was the Spaniard’s sixth goal of the season in addition to eight assists.
Put simply, Hernandez is a class act with his versatility to play on the wing or at no 10 extremely helpful as back up for Saiz.
The fact that Hernandez’s contract is up in the summer has been well documented and if they are not already doing so, United need to move heaven and Earth to get the 32-year-old signed up for at least another year and probably two.
“Sign him up” was unsurprisingly the chat from a packed Elland Road after Hernandez put United 2-0 up.
His reverse pass to set up an Alioski chance in the first half was sublime.