Leeds United's January transfer business - food for thought for Victor Orta and Marcelo Bielsa if 'opportunities arise'

Leeds United and the January transfer window do not make natural bedfellows for reasons that have been well documented during Marcelo Bielsa's regime.

By Graham Smyth
Monday, 15th November 2021, 1:46 pm

Not only is the mid-season window a vastly reduced market, as Victor Orta has pointed out, with far fewer available players, many of those you might be able to get your hands on have not been playing regular football. Therein lies a key issue when it comes to the Whites' head coach and his system, which takes time to learn and puts huge physical demands on players. If a new signing was to arrive lacking match fitness, it could be weeks before he was in a position to challenge for a place in the starting XI.

Jean-Kevin Augustin is the highest profile example of the pitfalls of a January arrival at Elland Road, given his struggle to return to fitness after picking up a niggle and the lack of game time before it was decided his Leeds stint should come to an end.

That said, Bielsa was open to the idea of additions last January: "If there is a player that clearly improves the squad then obviously it would be good for the future of the club.

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"The option to bring a great player to the club sometimes depends on the needs of the team but sometimes opportunities arise. In this sense Victor Orta has a way of working which usually benefits the team."

Leeds United and the January transfer window do not make natural bedfellows for reasons that have been well documented during Marcelo Bielsa's regime.

Not only is the mid-season window a vastly reduced market, as Victor Orta has pointed out, with far fewer available players, many of those you might be able to get your hands on have not been playing regular football. Therein lies a key issue when it comes to the Whites' head coach and his system, which takes time to learn and puts huge physical demands on players. If a new signing was to arrive lacking match fitness, it could be weeks before he was in a position to challenge for a place in the starting XI.

Jean-Kevin Augustin is the highest profile example of the pitfalls of a January arrival at Elland Road, given his struggle to return to fitness after picking up a niggle and the lack of game time before it was decided his Leeds stint should come to an end.

DECISION MAKERS - Leeds United CEO Angus Kinnear and director of football Victor Orta must weigh up the cost implications of January business as well as the immediate needs of the team in the Premier League. Pic: Getty

That said, Bielsa was open to the idea of additions last January: "If there is a player that clearly improves the squad then obviously it would be good for the future of the club.

"The option to bring a great player to the club sometimes depends on the needs of the team but sometimes opportunities arise. In this sense Victor Orta has a way of working which usually benefits the team."

Although it was generally understood that only an injury crisis would force the Whites into the market this coming January, there are areas that could be strengthened, should 'opportunities' indeed arise and some movement remains possible.

Here are the areas Orta might well be looking at in the short and long term.

Goalkeeping

Illan Meslier is the undisputed number one at Leeds United, in no danger of losing his position. There's a separate argument to be had over whether or not the 21-year-old needs more in the way of competition, but the more pressing concern is the possibility of him not being available. Were Meslier to find himself suspended or injured, Leeds have 20-year-old Kristoffer Klaesson as back-up. The Norwegian youngster, signed in the summer, does have top flight experience in his native country, as Meslier did before arriving at Leeds, but he has looked like a player still getting to grips with his new challenge. As Bielsa has said, goalkeepers' mistakes are highlighted with greater intensity due to their location on the pitch and the 23s have encountered defensive difficulties that have put pressure on Klaesson, so it has not been the easiest start to life at Leeds. The idea of him being thrown into the Premier League all of a sudden is not one that sits entirely comfortably, so perhaps there is cause to find another stopper with a little more maturity and experience to complete a goalkeeping trio at first team level. Of course, Meslier is proof that taking a risk on a young back-up goalkeeper can pay off handsomely.

Left-back

Stuart Dallas is a terrific option at both right and left-back, but when both of your full-backs are out injured at once and the midfield is proving problematic, he can't be everywhere. There is generally a lack of depth at left-back at Leeds United, perhaps more so than any other position. Beyond Junior Firpo and Dallas, there isn't really a natural left-back who could come in and fill that slot, in the way Cody Drameh has been able to at right-back recently. Pascal Struijk did it very well against Leicester so perhaps that's enough to mitigate any future issues in that position but his personal future is surely at centre-half. The 23s have Liam McCarron, a 20-year-old winger who is being converted into a wing-back, and Leo Hjelde, an 18-year-old centre-half who has played a few times at left-back. It was somewhat of a surprise that, having let Leif Davis depart in the summer, a replacement was not signed for the 23s.

Central midfield

The most obvious area to strengthen, given the club have not signed a senior central midfielder since Marcelo Bielsa arrived at the club in 2018. Adam Forshaw's return is a welcome one and his performance against Leicester City was remarkable enough to suggest the club were perhaps correct to put so much faith in his comeback to solve the midfield issue. It's still a risk, however and the fact remains, they tried to sign one in the summer of 2020 and set out to do so again in the summer of 2021. It would be nice to see if Jamie Shackleton has what it takes to play in the midfield in the Premier League and there is an awful lot to like about Lewis Bate, but both are still young. Bate is entirely untested in the top flight and Shackleton has had very few minutes in that position against elite teams. Having an alternative to Kalvin Phillips is vital because the side have not been consistently convincing during his absences. Robin Koch might have it in him to become that player, but we're yet to be able to verify it because he's been injured for such long periods since his arrival. Regardless, if not in January, Leeds must add to the midfield in the summer.

Striker

Patrick Bamford's absence has been illuminating. It shed a light on just how important he is and how good he is for Leeds' attacking play, but it also posed questions over the striking options at Bielsa's disposal. Joe Gelhardt appears to have a big future ahead and that Wolves cameo was electrifying but he's still so young and needs both time and patience. The same has to be said for Sam Greenwood, who has a keen eye for goal but is yet to make a significant senior breakthrough. Rodrigo is a player of undoubted quality but plays with such a different profile to Bamford and if Bielsa was completely convinced the Spaniard was the ideal number nine he would probably not be sticking Daniel James or Jack Harrison up top. What Leeds really need is a period of time with Bamford playing ahead of Rodrigo, giving them a chance to develop a proper partnership. Injuries have made that difficult. A striker is probably not near the top of Orta's list of priorities but there's certainly scope to look at the situation. Again, the summer probably feels a more likely or natural time to take any action.