AHEAD of Leeds United’s return to action at Elland Road this weekend, Lee Sobot looks at a few key talking points in anticipation of Saturday’s Championship derby with early leaders Huddersfield Town.
Who will start at centre-back?
All eyes will be on Sweden’s World Cup qualifier at home to Holland this evening which could feature an outing for United’s new six-foot-five centre-back Pontus Jannson, on loan from Torino. From a selfish point of view, there will be plenty of Whites fans hoping the 25-year-old is not involved, with head coach Garry Monk surely considering starting Jansson this weekend after the defensive errors at Nottingham Forest. Liam Cooper and Kyle Bartley started the clash at the City Ground and the pairing had previously performed well when keeping a clean sheet in the 2-0 success at Sheffield Wednesday. But the Forest display was another definite step backwards, with another two goals shipped in at corners. With former club captain Sol Bamba having now left the club, Monk only has three natural options at centre-back in Cooper, Bartley and Jansson, though right back Luke Ayling has also played there before. Nevertheless, as far as Saturday’s clash with Huddersfield goes, it seems sure to be a case of two from three between Bartley, Cooper and Jansson and much could depend on the latter’s international involvement and recovery this week.
What role will Eunan O’Kane be given?
O’Kane was a rather surprise addition to the Leeds squad from Bournemouth on transfer deadline day with the Whites seemingly determined to sign a new striker as a priority but ultimately adding another midfielder before FIFA’s summer transfer window closed. Monk was known to want another midfield option but a new goal-scorer looked more important.
United now have 12 midfielders in the current first team squad, of which probably eight can play in the centre - Liam Bridcutt, Ronaldo Vieira, Luke Murphy, Kalvin Phillips, Alex Mowatt, Toumani Diagouraga, Matt Grimes and now O’Kane, nine if including Pablo Hernandez who looks a more natural no 10.
Bridcutt and Vieira received the nod to start at Forest but O’Kane is an Irish international stepping down from the Premier and has not been bought to warm the bench. The natural assumption is that 18-year-old prospect Vieira will drop top to the bench with O’Kane partnering Bridcutt, assuming Monk keeps to a 4-4-2. But Kalvin Phillips also strongly advertised his claims to start when making a big impression after coming on as a second half substitute for Vieira in the 3-1 loss at Forest, capping a decent display with a brilliant free-kick and almost bagging a quick brace when firing over the bar. Mowatt, meanwhile, looks more likely to be used out wide and probably faces a battle with Hernandez to start on the left, unless Monk switches formation and plays Hernandez as a no 10 behind a lone striker - one out of Chris Wood and Marcus Antonsson. Wood, though, seems unlikely to be dropped and Antonsson should be considered impossible to leave out at present given his start to the season so far. One of Hadi Sacko, Kemar Roofe and Stuart Dallas will likely start on the right flank, with Sacko favourite, though with all three there is the option to switch to the other side. In short, six games into the new season, it is very hard to say what Monk’s best XI is. Ayling and Charlie Taylor look bankers to start at right back and left back respectively though Rob Green’s place is not necessarily guaranteed in goal given the impressive showing of Marco Silvestri in the EFL Cup clash win at Luton.
Who will captain the Whites?
This could well be revealed at Thursday’s pre-match press conference when the identity as to who will pick up the vacant skipper’s armband will no doubt be one of the first questions put to Monk. United’s head coach was put in a difficult position when picking this season’s club captain as stripping Sol Bamba of the arm-band might have caused problems. As it was, Bamba kept the captaincy, despite doubts over whether he would start, and the 31-year-old soon became forth choice centre-back. His departure from the club the day after transfer deadline day, actually in reality came as no great surprise. But Monk must now decide on who will be United’s next club captain, with the decision looking like a two-horse race between Cooper and Bridcutt. Cooper has worm the skipper’s arm-band in Bamba’s absence but given United’s defensive problems, there are definite doubts as to whether Cooper will even start.
Former Sunderland midfielder Bridcutt, meanwhile, is probably the first name on the team-sheet and occupies a ‘natural’ captain’s position in centre midfield.
Experienced goalkeeper Rob Green will also likely be considered and Bartley could also be in contention though similar comments apply to him as with Cooper. There have also been a few calls for the passionate Gaetano Berardi to be considered but he remains injured for the time being and following the acquisition of Ayling, the Swiss international is no longer a guaranteed starter. Bridcutt must be considered long odds on to get the nod.
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