A pretty mixed pre-season for the Whites on the pitch so far. Whilst the recruitment wheels have been constantly turning, results kind of forecast what I expect to see of Leeds moving into the season. A few victories over lower level opposition (Guiseley and North Ferriby) thrown in with defeats against Top Division European clubs (Buraspor and Eibar). The Oxford game gave a good indication of what Thomas Christiansen thinks is his strongest team and they put in a solid performance but it also highlighted the areas which we are still short on.
A large influx of players from abroad usually mean more flair (skills, goals and dodgy haircuts) but also run the risk of been unable to adapt to the English league and been over powered in some games. However, Leeds look well equipped in midfield; O’Kane, Klich, Bridcutt, Vieira, Phillips all able to play In the deeper lying playmaker role with Roofe, Sainz, Dallas, Alioski and Hernandez offering a central and wide attacking role.
Presumably, Wood will be first choice after firing 30+ goals last season with Eubank a potential partner/backup, it will be interesting to see if Antonsson can force his way into the picture more too but if Wood starts firing blanks this is where we may start to struggle.
Defensively, we are certainly down on last season. Not been able to bring Bartley back was a huge blow and Taylor leaving (less said about that the better) leaves us short. Pennington gives us some much needs depth but I can’t help but think another centre back needs to be added, if just to cover for the threat of potential Jansson suspensions or injuries!
I must admit that I’m not entirely sure what to expect from us this season. I’m confident that we will be able to turn quite a few teams over this season, especially at home but consistency could be an issue (and often is in this league). That said, off the field there is a good buzz about the season and the club has done a lot of great work at engaging the fans which in turn should generate a great atmosphere home and away, that can only work in our favour. Providing we can invest in a couple more first team players, I do believe we can do better this season. Monk laid a solid foundation, hopefully Christiansen can take us forward.
This is a tough one, mainly because a lot of our new signings are completely new to the English game. However, Jansson proved last season, you don’t need to have played in the Championship before to be able to boss it and I fully expect him to be a leading player again. However, Leeds badly lacked a Snodgrass or a Gradel last season, that match winner from midfield to drag the rest of the team through, hopefully Alioski can take up this responsibility. From what we’ve seen so far, he has a lot of attributes that should result in him having a successful season, such as work rate, pace and determination. Ultimately though, it’s goals and assists that fans will want and what he will be after himself.
Key player: Ezgjan Alioski
A testament to the club that every season now we seem to have a new young player who breaks into the first team. Peacock-Farrell could well find himself as the clubs number two if Green doesn’t fancy been on the bench, which could spell some more game time for this talented keeper, alternatively, it may be time he got some First team football out on loan. Pennington is also a fantastic signing and I fully expect him to be a success. Vieira and Phillips now represent the academy’s established youth team players and this season represents a big chance for Phillips. He seems to have won the race to play in the centre of midfield for the opener against Bolton after a few encouraging performances in pre-season. Opinions of Phillips differ (including here at RITGK!) But there’s no denying that Phillips is in need of a big season if he’s to prove he can make it at this level. There have been flashes of brilliance but with Vieira’s obvious talent in the same position, Phillips will know himself he needs a good season, let’s hope he can deliver.
Rising star: Phillips/Peacock-Farrell
We’re at that time of the year again where we don’t have clue what is about to hit us. Combine the new ownership, manager and players and it feels like were back to square one, apart from this time you actually get the feeling Leeds are heading in the right direction as a club.
The signings we have made may not be well known but so far we have added to the squad in the right areas. Some people have moaned at the fact we have too many central midfielders. I, on the other hand think it’s healthy to have a number of midfielders fighting for positions and the fact that we struggled to control games in midfield last season shows we still needed to add in that area. Hopefully Eunan O’Kane gets a new chance under Thomas Christiansen as he seemed to fall out of Garry Monk’s plans fairly quickly and Leeds’ form dipped as a result.
It looks like we will be sticking with the 4-2-3-1 formation we used for the majority of last season so Chris Wood will be the focal point once again should he stay. Leeds are supposedly in the market for another striker and therefore it looks like one could be on their way out. The Duke looks like he could be sold and Marcus Antonsson looks like he could still do a job if he gets a run of form so a loan move may favour him. In defence we are still a bit light and could do with signing another centre back and a left back. The signing of Matthew Pennington is an exciting one and hopefully he hits the ground running and he can form a strong partnership with Jansson for the start of the season.
Overall the club looks in better shape on and off the field heading into the season compared to last year. Over the last few seasons we have struggled to get off to a good start and therefore have been playing catch up for most of the season, regardless of league position.
Again, I’ll stress that not really many Leeds fans knows what to expect at this stage so predicting where we finish is kind of hoping where we finish at this stage…
The foundations have been laid off the field and there’s a good atmosphere surrounding the club at the moment. If the players and staff can transfer that energy on to the pitch then theres no reason why we can’t go one better than last season.
There could be a few surprises for the key player this season. The likes of Alioski and Saiz could prove to great signings and it looks like Kemar Roofe could also be one to watch this season having featured in most of Christiansen’s teams this summer.
Alioski is a player that we look like we’ve been missing for the past couple of seasons. Someone with pace, flair and looks like a direct winger who could make things happen out of nothing. A player we haven’t had since the likes of Max Gradel.
Key Player: Ezgjan Alioski
It’s hard to choose someone who could break through into the first team this season and cement a place. The only real choices would Bailey Peacock-Farrell or Tyler Denton who are yet to have a strong run of games in the first team.
Madger Gomes could be one of the young players who break into the team this year having featured in a few pre-season games and he could get a run in the side should Leeds progress in the League Cup.
Rising Star: Madger Gomes
Its been hard to keep up at times with our pre-season. 10 Signings (albeit including the converted loans of Jansson and Hadi Sacko) have been countered with the losses of Bartley, Taylor – and of course vey early on in the process our Manager. We’ve recruited some real depth up front in Saiz, Alioski and Ekuban, and in Central Midfield Klich has looked a decent addition. But our form has been patchy in pre-season. Turned over by Bursaspor early on 3-0, and caught napping by Eibar to go 3-0 before half time shows our frailty is still there in defence. Oxford were about as close a test as you’re going to get at this stage to an English Championship game, and we were made to work for our 2-0 win. That said pre -season did seem relatively well-organised for a change and the hope is that our new manager will have the measure of his squad. Of the existing team it looks like Roofe, Dallas and Phillips have benefited most, with Green now on the fringes, and Wood yet to score.
This is Thomas Christiansen’s biggest challenge to date as a manager, with only experience in the Cypriot top flight under his belt, several rungs below even the championship; and although he has been backed in the market he’s also not landed the centre back and centre forward we really need, I think these two factors combined – not to mention the fact we have so many new players – will see us struggle to impose ourselves in games early on. Fortuitously for Christiansen Cellino is gone and Radrizzani will hopefully be a little more patient.
That said I see once further additions to the backline are made we could come together mid to late season and push up that table, but I cant see us getting a top 6, with the lack of experience in this squad from Manager to outfield.
There remain some strong players from last season, notably Jansson, Berardi, Vieira, Bridcutt, Wood and Green. But I see our backline as a real Achilles heel. To that end its goals that will be our currency for Survival, moreover the supply line from midfield. To that end I see Samuel Saiz as a key new signing. Able to carve out chances, feed the strikers and beat players, I can see that signing as key, and hopefully more consistent than the sometimes off-colour Hernandez. For me though this season is going to be Kemar Roofe’s, now acclimatised to the Championship, Roofe could conceivably be more foil to Chris Wood, than the number 10 role hes played previously, certainly now Alioski and Saiz are on board. A strong finisher and able to pick out those killer passes Roofe can dictate the tempo in the final third at his best – and I think this will be his season.
Key Player: Kemar Roofe
This is a tough one. Orta and Radrizzani have clearly noted our lack of depth in the youth set up and seem to have gone about signing a good number of youngsters from the Primera Ligas youth set up. Its be easy for me to say Vieira is our rising star at this point, but that would be disingenuous of me, he’s an established first teamer now, as is Tyler Denton. Im going to go all out bat-crazy here and say that our rising star will be someone we haven’t heard much about, but who’s signed for us from Barcelona’s youth set up recently – I give you (the amusingly named – just say it..) Dzhokun Temenuzhkov…
This Bulgarian youth International was highly rated at Barcelona and broke several scoring records there. From what I’ve seen and read the lad is fast, has a great first touch and is strong at ghosting into the area. I can’t say much about his temperament but he reminds me a little of a young Smudger, given our lack of out and out strikers we’ll need impact subs, and Antonsson looks firmly in the cold, so who’s to say we won’t see a few of our youth team on the bench, this lad looks to me like one who might grab his chance with both hands.
Rising Star: Dzhokun Temenuzhkov
New manager, some relatively unknown signings from Europe’s lower leagues, for a second you would think we’d have the mad Italian running the club still. What was key to our success last season under the now departed Garry Monk was team unity and spirit. It’s something we’ve lacked in a Leeds United squad for a number of years now. We’ve the sudden influx of 10 new players (including permanent signings of Pontus Jansson and Hadi Sacko). I’ve not seen YouTube’s latest analytics but I can imagine they saw a influx of views from the Leeds area this summer. The challenge will be to fit the new additions in and improve on last season. Big task.
Vernon Anita is a smart buy and as we’ve seen with Newcastle he can cover every blade of grass on the pitch. Samu Saiz is tricky and on what we’ve seen is a better outlet on Pedrosa last season. Ezgjan Alioski looks like a beefed up ex Brazilian Adryan after 100 press ups, and has directness about him which we have badly missed at this club.
Last season was our chance, if Garry Monk was still leading this team I’d be more confident and bold with my prediction for a crack at promotion. My fear is that Thomas Christiansen will struggle in this league, The Cyprus first division is no comparison to the English Championship. Granted we saw with Huddersfield and Wagner last season, but he had extensive knowledge of the gems in and around the German lower leagues. I hope I’m proved wrong as the guy has got likability.
Prediction – 10th
I think Chris Wood (If we keep him) will have another goal frenzy season in front of goal. Similar to last season, it appears everything will go through him. Monk know his strengths and look at the rewards Wood provided the team.
Key Player – Chris Wood
For some time at Right in the Gary Kelly’s we’ve been aware of this up and coming left back, having seen him turnout for the U18s and U21 on a regular basis and when given a chance last season he took it with both hands. After the departure of Charlie Taylor this summer, Tyler Denton has got a great opportunity to fill his boots and cement the LB slot of his own. I do feel Vernon Anita will be used in that position this season but Tyler has a better chance than ever to make it his own.
Rising Star – Tyler Denton