Liam Cooper's injury, the Pablo Hernandez puzzle and Patrick Bamford's thousand words - Leeds United Talking Points

AFTER seeing Leeds United sign off for the November international break with a 2-1 victory against Blackburn Rovers, Lee Sobot looks at a few key talking points from Saturday's clash at Elland Road.

Sunday, 10th November 2019, 2:25 pm
ICE COOL: Striker Patrick Bamford calmly slots away from the penalty spot to score his first Leeds United goal in 11 games. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.

Patrick Bamford's back in business

Whites striker Patrick Bamford was never really out of business in truth despite going ten games without scoring heading into Saturday's Rovers clash considering the forward's excellent all round contribution.

Nevertheless, the continued missed chances were still a definite concern and no striker wants to go through ten games without netting.

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As such, with the spotlight glaring, it took plenty of bottle for Bamford to step up and take the 30th-minute penalty with Tyler Roberts also putting his hand up for the spot kick but Bamford appeared as cool as a cucumber in sending Christian Walton the wrong way to put United 1-0 up.

Even Bamford admitted the photographs of his celebrations were then self explanatory - "a picture says a thousand words" admitted the striker - and a definite weight has now been lifted from the forward's shoulders.

Just five minutes later, Bamford then produced a sublime piece of control to set up Jack Harrison for United's second and Bamford will naturally hope that Saturday's strike is the start of a prolific goalscoring run.

Bamford is now already on five for the season - still seven behind Fulham's Aleksandar Mitrovic with 12 - but Leeds create a plethora of chances and there is plenty of time to catch up.

With Eddie Nketiah still out with his lower abdomen injury and no real news of when he will be back, a goalscoring Bamford is now more important than ever.

Breaking the international curse and just as well

Whites skipper Liam Cooper highlighted the fact that Leeds had entered the September and October international breaks with defeats - at home to Swansea City and Millwall respectively - with the captain saying it was imperative that Leeds this time signed off with a victory.

United's pre international break record made for grim reading approaching the Rovers clash with Leeds also losing 1-0 at home to Sheffield United last March before the Spring international break and hammered 4-1 at West Brom before a two week rest last November.

Even before that, Marcelo Bielsa's men signed off for last season's October and September breaks respectively with draws at home to Brentford and Middlesbrough and the previous March Leeds were felled 2-1 at home to Sheffield Wednesday under Paul Heckingbottom.

But the record goes back even further with Thomas Christiansen's Whites losing 3-1 at Brentford in November 2017 and beaten 3-0 at Sheffield Wednesday the previous month, also in their final fixtures before an international break.

Staggeringly, it means Leeds had failed to win in their last nine games before an international break - losing seven of them - which is hardly good for morale with no immediate game to right any recent wrongs.

You had to go back to August 2017 to find the last time United signed off for an international break with a victory through a 2-0 win at Nottingham Forest.

But finally the curse has been broken and really it was just as well with Swansea City the only team in the top five to drop points through their 2-2 draw at Sheffield Wednesday and with much fancied Fulham moving sixth with their 1-0 triumph at Birmingham City.

It means it's as you were in the top three with Leeds third and only behind second-placed Preston North End on goal difference and two adrift of leaders West Brom but with the Whites now two ahead of fourth-placed Swansea.

Fifth-placed Nottingham Forest, though, would go level with United if winning their game in hand and it's too early to talk about any potential breakaways at the top of the division.

But West Brom and underrated Preston in particular are looking tidy and Leeds really need to be cashing in on their next run of fixtures after the international break .

United's next four games all come against teams in the bottom eight starting with back to back away days at Luton Town and Reading where six points would be a strong signal of automatic promotion intent.

The Pablo Hernandez predicament

Marcelo Bielsa opted to name an unchanged side against Blackburn with the two main imponderables being who started at left back in a switch back to a 4-1-4-1 against Blackburn's one upfront and whether to field Pablo Hernandez or Helder Costa on the right wing.

The ever impressing Stuart Dallas got the nod over the returning Barry Douglas and young talent Leif Davis at left back but Hernandez again had to settle for a place on the bench for a second game in a row following his return from injury as Costa made his eighth White league start.

Assuming Hernandez is fully fit and there is nothing to suggest otherwise, that was arguably a surprise given Hernandez's class, flair and importance to Leeds but marquee summer recruit Costa is gradually improving and Leeds are not shelling out big bucks on the Portuguese international to sit on the bench.

United still need more from Costa but the signs are becoming promising with one passage of play in the second half when the 25-year-old burst his way through the middle of the park particularly impressive.

With Jack Harrison continuing to produce goals and assists from the left and Tyler Roberts perhaps United's best player on Saturday in the no 10 role, at the moment it is difficult to see when Hernandez will get in which is clearly a very good problem to have, let alone with the likes of Jack Clarke on the bench too.

Liam Cooper latest with injuries mounting up

United's injury problems have not quite yet hit last season's ridiculous levels but Bielsa already had four players out for the weekend in Nketiah, Adam Forshaw, Gjanni Alioski and Jamie Shackleton and four became five when Cooper had to be taken off for Gaetano Berardi with 18 minutes left.

The frustration and disappointment on Cooper's face was plain to see with the important defender having only recently returned to the side following his three-game absence with a groin problem picked up in the 2-0 win at home to Queens Park Rangers.

Bielsa attempted to provide an update in his post-match press conference, saying: "Honestly, I didn’t ask yet. But I think that it could be the same as the other time, but not so heavy injury."

While Derrick Williams' headed goal from a 40th-minute corner was a bit of a concern, United remain in excellent shape defensively with Cooper and the brilliant Ben White forming a superb axis at the back and even if Berardi is an able deputy, it is very much fingers crossed that Cooper's injury is indeed a lighter one than last time.

Mateusz Klich 64 not out

Saturday began with the news that United midfielder Mateusz Klich had signed a new four and a half year deal, just over two years on from the Polish international's well documented slip in the 3-1 loss at Cardiff City that seemed to signal one of the final nails in the coffin under Thomas Christiansen.

Klich only made one more league outing under Christiansen thereafter - as a second-half substitute in the 1-0 loss at Birmingham City two months later - with the Pole then loaned out to FC Utrecht with his future at Leeds looking bleak.

But amazingly Klich has fought back to become one of United's most important and adored players with the 29-year-old having started every single league game under Bielsa including both legs of last season's play-offs semi finals.

Saturday's outing made it 64 league starts in a row with Klich clearly absolutely thrilled to be committing his long term future to the Whites.

"Alexa, define happiness" said the Pole on social media next to photos of him signing his new deal.

Now Leeds need the Pole to go from Klich is signing contracts to Klich is scoring goals but either way his overall contribution and importance under Bielsa - solid - is impossible to ignore.