Phil Hay: Where the Leeds United squad needs attention in the January transfer window

Leeds United's head coach Thomas Christiansen.
Leeds United's head coach Thomas Christiansen.
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The squad built by Leeds United during the summer was ostensibly a squad for the whole of this season. Victor Orta, the club’s sporting director, described January as a “bad market” and “a market I don’t believe a lot in” and the same view is taken by the club’s board in general.

Speaking to the YEP earlier this month, managing director Angus Kinnear said: “We’ll be more considered in January than at any other time because there’s definitely a temptation to panic. There are lots of bad buys and if you do the analysis of successful January purchases, there aren’t too many of them.”

Felix Wiedwald and Andy Lonergan.

Felix Wiedwald and Andy Lonergan.

Kinnear said Leeds would look for two things in the forthcoming window: players who address a “specific need” in Thomas Christiansen’s current line-up and others who represent medium-to-long term investments, in the mould of several recruited in the summer. “We want players who we feel with a high degree of confidence can deliver immediately,” Kinnear said, “but if we can steal a march on the competition by signing others who can contribute in the longer term, we’ll also do that.”

Leeds’ willingness to spend on impact signings in January, of the sort who could help make something of this season, will depend on the strength of their league position when the window opens but the first half of the term and the dip of the past two months has highlighted positions where Christiansen’s squad needs attention. Here, Inside Elland Road looks at the requirements of United’s head coach with the transfer window a month away:

Goalkeeper

It would seem that Felix Wiedwald has a month in which to convince Christiansen that he can be a long-term number one. Christiansen has already dropped both of his goalkeepers – Wiedwald after 11 league appearances and Lonergan after seven – and he cannot turn back to Lonergan now without effectively confirming that neither player retains his complete confidence.

Victor Orta.

Victor Orta.

Leeds have six games before the January market opens, a favourable run on paper involving five clubs who sit in the bottom half of the Championship, and it is Wiedwald’s opportunity to prove to United that a £500,000 transfer fee and a three-year contract was money well spent in June. If truth be told, neither he nor Lonergan have yet shown themselves to be at the level which a top-six Championship side would expect and neither has vindicated Rob Green’s exit from Elland Road in August.

With Wiedwald tied down until 2020 and Lonergan on the books until 2019 it would help Leeds financially if a reliable first-choice emerged without the need for another signing, but Leeds cannot allow uncertainty to persist in that area. Nor can they gamble too heavily on 21-year-old Bailey Peacock-Farrell.

Left-back and left-wing

Sixteen signings were made in the summer, 14 of them constituting first-team players, but Leeds have suffered from the absence of a specialist, experienced left-back. The club were sold on Vurnon Anita’s run of appearances as a full-back for Newcastle, despite his many years as a central midfielder, and Gaetano Berardi had previously demonstrated his ability to cover on the left side of defence. Leeds also anticipated a more convincing contribution from Cameron Borthwick-Jackson than the Manchester United loanee has been able to deliver but none of those three options have negated the loss of Charlie Taylor to Burnley.

The recent exposure of Berardi has not been helped by an imbalance in front of him and for all that Pablo Hernandez has his place in the squad, a lack of width and solidity in front of Christiansen’s left-sided full-back is a weakness which several opponents have benefited from. Leeds were linked with a loan move for Huddersfield’s Scott Malone a month ago – a member of the Championship’s team of the year while at Fulham last season – but Malone has forced his way into the frame at Huddersfield and is highly unlikely to be available.

Centre forward

Pierre-Michel Lasogga’s finishing is not in question but he is still short of peak fitness and his current injury has not helped. Caleb Ekuban’s movement and effectiveness drew a positive comparison to Lasogga at Barnsley but games like Friday’s meeting with Aston Villa are a better test of Ekuban’s ability to unsettle a top-six Championship defence and provide the three of Hernandez, Samuel Saiz and Gjanni Alioski with the space they need to roam and play.

Kemar Roofe’s better games up front might also make Christiansen think that he has enough in the way of strikers to choose from but it is both impressive and telling that 19 of Leeds’ 29 league goals have come from their midfield.

There is no desperation for another centre-forward but in the context of chasing promotion, it would help.

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