Patrick Bamford returns to a familiar situation at Leeds United - the Roofe is on fire
In the time Patrick Bamford spent away from the coalface at Leeds United, very little has changed.
The club are where they were in the Championship when the striker first injured his knee and he returned to the bench on Saturday to find Kemar Roofe doing damage in much the same way.
Marcelo Bielsa is taking a cautious tack with Bamford, reluctant to put undue stress on a player who feared his season was over in September.
But Bamford’s reintroduction comes down to more than match fitness. He has Roofe in front of him and, once again, will be obliged to wait his turn.
It went this way for Bamford in August, when Roofe responded to the forward’s Â£7m transfer from Middlesbrough by scoring four times and winning the Championship’s player of the month award, and the former’s inclusion in the match day squad for a 2-1 win over Queens Park Rangers on Saturday coincided with Roofe scoring twice and running QPR’s defence ragged.
Roofe has always thought of himself as a proven goalscorer - 26 at Oxford United in his only full year there, 14 for Leeds last season - but Bielsa’s effect on him has been two-fold: giving Roofe the self-assurance that a leading Championship footballer needs and creating a position which the 25-year-old can genuinely call his own.
Over two previous seasons Leeds experimented endlessly with Roofe, playing him out wide, occasionally in a front two and even more sporadically at No 10.
There were flashes of brilliance – his hat-trick at QPR last December – but a constant sense too that successive managers were unclear about where to play him and unable to give Roofe the confidence of knowing his role.
Blackburn Rovers and Reading were linked with him in the most recent summer window but Leeds indicated from the outset that Roofe would stay and the matter was closed once Bielsa took the job as United’s head coach and named him on the list of players he intended to keep.
Bielsa had a plan for Roofe: to play him as a lone centre-forward but in a system and a tactical set-up which would play to the strength of a player who lacked the physique and aerial power to operate up front in the way that Chris Wood had under Garry Monk.
The effect of that plan and the quality of Roofe’s impact is amply demonstrated by his tally of goals, which stands at 10 in 16 league appearances.
He is one of nine Championship players to have reached double figures and, at his current rate, is on course to pass last season’s total sometime in January.
But Saturday’s win over QPR also demonstrated the way in which Roofe has come to anticipate United’s approach play and the way in which Leeds often read his movement.
There were missed chances against QPR - two good ones early on which were punished when Rangers opened the scoring on 26 minutes - but Roofe’s brace either side of half-time was symptomatic of his continuous threat.
Over 90 minutes, he produced eight efforts on goal having done the same in a 1-0 win over Reading a week-and-a-half earlier. His shots-per-game ratio of 3.4 is the highest in the Championship and a marked improvement on his figure of 1.9 last season. Under Monk, that ratio stood at 1.3.
Bielsa laughed a few weeks ago when he was asked if he had been impressed by Roofe’s performances.
“Imagine I answer no,” he replied. “You have some questions that include the answer. What would we be without Roofe? Or without someone frequently scoring?”
Roofe’s tenacity showed itself when he talked Pablo Hernandez into letting him take a second-half penalty against QPR but the ship run by Bielsa discourages egos or individual ambitions from getting in the way.
Roofe and Bamford are in direct competition for a place in United’s line-up but Roofe spoke after a 2-0 win over Rotherham United in August about the support he was getting from the former Chelsea trainee, saying: “I got words from Patrick before the game and he told me to be more selfish.
“People say we’re meant to be competing against each other but he wants me to score.”
As Roofe’s form increases his value at a steady rate, his deal at Elland Road is counting down bit by bit.
Leeds have him under contract until June 2020, 18 months down the line, but his salary is significantly lower than that of their highest earner and the sale of Wood to Burnley in August 2017 was a warning about the risk of allowing a striker with goals on his record to reach the final year of his deal.
Leeds indicated initially that talks about an extension would start in October and the club want Roofe to sign new terms before this season finishes but they have made no offers to him and are still to open formal discussions.
The club expected goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell and midfielder Samuel Saiz to look for improved contracts this season too but Roofe’s situation is most in need of attention.
In his first year at Elland Road he watched the ball steadfastly refuse to go in the net.
“Everything was hitting the post or going a couple of inches wide,” Roofe said.
This season he is scoring at a rate of one goal every 125 minutes, narrowly behind Nottingham Forest’s Lewis Grabban.
Much has been said about the wafer-thin nature of Bielsa’s squad, and defensively the cupboard is bare, but the Argentinian has no such issue at the other end of the field.
Roofe on fire with a Â£7m Bamford behind him on the bench is more akin to an embarrassment of riches.