Like the EFL Cup last year, this season’s Carabao Cup could also re-open doors for some of Leeds United’s first-team squad players and those in need of ‘game time’. Phil Hay reports.
The saving grace for the players who missed Sunday’s game at Bolton Wanderers was the prospect of a chance to put their hands up tonight. “It’s bad that I have to leave some out,” said Thomas Christiansen after a 3-2 win over Bolton but, the advantage of a deep squad will come into play against Port Vale later.
Leeds United’s head coach is not blessed with a bottomless pit and his defence has been badly stretched by absentees but, the squad chosen for the club’s first game of the season at Bolton was as notable for the players omitted as the 18 Christiansen included.
Liam Bridcutt, Stuart Dallas and Ronaldo Vieira were the most unfortunate three, but the door could re-open this evening at a stage of the Carabao Cup where Championship managers usually shuffle the pack. Garry Monk made five changes for the first round of the EFL Cup last season and 11 during the second. The competition became a haven for his second string, even after Leeds progressed to a quarter-final against Liverpool at Anfield.
Port Vale come to Elland Road this evening on the back of a 3-1 win over Harry Kewell’s Crawley on Saturday, a League Two game in which Kewell claimed his team had been sucked into a scrap. “We were too busy fighting and trying to – I don’t know – be a man,” Kewell said, and Leeds will see in Vale’s set up a few shades of Neil Warnock.
Michael Brown was appointed as their manager in May and his signings include Michael Tonge and Danny Pugh, two other midfielders who played for United during Warnock’s short and spiky reign at Leeds. All three will be back at Elland Road tonight.
“It’s a fantastic game for myself personally,” Brown said.
Vale’s squad is not at all vast but Christiansen has options to play with, despite losing defenders Matthew Pennington and Gaetano Berardi to injury on Sunday.
Berardi suffered a dislocated shoulder and Pennington injured an ankle in the second half against Bolton. Neither player will feature in tonight’s first-round tie and both are waiting for a full assessment of the damage.
Pennington’s absence, combined with the final match of Pontus Jansson’s three-match suspension, leaves Christiansen with a choice between Luke Ayling and youngster Conor Shaughnessy to partner Liam Cooper in the centre of defence, but the sight of Berardi being stretchered from the field at Bolton was tempered by the arrival of another left-back, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, on loan from Manchester United on Monday.
Leeds tracked the defender throughout the summer and negotiated a deal in place to sign him before Berardi dislocated his shoulder. Borthwick-Jackson already has a number of first-team outings behind him, including Premier League and Champions League appearances for Manchester United and a short run of games on loan at Wolverhampton Wanderers last season.
And Christiansen could use tonight’s match to ease him in ahead of Saturday’s Championship meeting with Preston North End, a fixture which is headed for a sell-out crowd.
“I’m looking to get as many games under my belt as I can, to develop as much as I can and get stronger physically and mentally,” Borthwick-Jackson told LUTV. “You want to play every game and I can’t wait to get started. It’s mad saying it but I don’t get nervous when I make my debut or anything like that.
“Nerves don’t hit me. I just block it out and do what I can for the team. Ever since a young age I’ve been confident in my own ability. I can play centre-back or left-back but preferably left-back. I’ve been rotated through the years so it doesn’t bother me but as a left-back I like to get forward and put crosses in. In the modern game you have to be up and down. You have to contribute and I hope I can get a good few assists this season.”
Christiansen might see tonight’s tie as an ideal chance to blood three of his other signings, Caleb Ekuban, Samuel Saiz and Mateusz Klich, who sat on the bench throughout Sunday’s win over Bolton. At the furthest reaches of his squad he also has Marcus Antonsson and Souleymane Doukara, neither of whom were prominent in pre-season or considered for the Bolton clash. Antonsson is being linked with a return to Sweden and has attracted the interest of League One side Blackburn who are keen to sign him on loan. Doukara, meanwhile, was one of the players who found his niche and a way back into the first-team picture in the League Cup last season.
“We come into a rhythm of games in the middle of weeks now,” Christiansen said. “We must have all the players prepared for these competitions.”