As we approach the first long awaited (yeah right) international break of the season, Leeds have a chance to go into it unbeaten and in a healthy league position, quite the achievement given the amount of incoming and now, outgoings.
Without doubt, Chris Wood making the short yet controversial move to Burnley has left Leeds in a bit of a predicament on how they address their striking options. Ekuban was Christiansen only recognised first team striker and with him limping off against Sunderland with a rumoured metatarsal injury, means it was left to academy product Eoghan Stokes to lead the line against Newport County. Of course we need to bring in a striker but would it be the end of the world if they don’t score a shed load of goals? I don’t think so and here’s why.
First, replacing a 30+ goal striker is never easy, especially in the current market where, for example, Leeds will struggle to sign Rudy Gestede for anything under 10 million. Judging by our performances so far this season, our midfield looks to be carrying a bigger goal threat, with Saiz, Roofe, Dallas and Alioski all looking capable of getting double figures. Last season, after Wood, our next top scorer only had six goals (Bartley, Hernandez and Doukara), no one scored a hatrick and only Wood managed to score two in the same game, which in all honesty, isn’t good enough. Already this season, we’ve seen two hatricks (Saiz and Roofe) and a brace (Phillips) and this could be a sign of things to come. A fluid, interchanging front three can be a nightmare for teams to defend against, especially if the players are quick and able to find space as the opposition defence then have a headache of working out who to mark which in turn creates space for others to pop up with goals.
Wood was very much the focal point of our attack, a lot of it went through him and ability to find space in the box was a great asset. However, you don’t have to replace a 30 goal forward with another 30 goal forward to be successful. On early season form, Saiz is going to be a key player for us and not playing with an out and out striker might just give him the freedom to run beyond the defence at will whilst still being able to drop deep and get hold of the ball if he is being frustrated. With Wood in the team for example, Saiz would be expected to play much deeper, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to free him and Roofe up for example, with both of them encouraged to roam and influence the game where they can, Dallas and Alioski are more than capable of working up and down the flanks to help defensively and offensively.
Liverpool are a perfect example of a fluid front three who cause trouble for even the best defences. None of Mane, Firmino, Salah or Coutinho are out and out strikers yet it’s extremely likely they’ll all hit double figures if they are all fit (or in Coutinho’s case, still at the club) by the end of the season. Obviously, I’m not comparing our players to theirs and Klopp has had plenty of time to implement this system but it is one example of how an out and out centre forward is no longer at the forefront of a team’s thinking. So should we be breaking the bank to sign a proven goal scorer, even if he doesn’t fit into the system? No we shouldn’t.
Let’s use Jordan Rhodes for example. A goal scorer who is proven in the league but on big wages and likely to demand a big fee too. Rhodes is similar to Wood in the way of requiring good service to thrive but if it isn’t received you can get the impression that you are playing with a man less. I don’t get the impression this is something that the club are after, instead they want a workhorse who is will to run the channels, bring others into play whilst still having an eye for goal.
With Jay Roy Grot confirmed as a Leeds United player, the club has moved quickly to add options to our strike force and it will be interesting to see what he adds. He looks like a bit of a tank, which will hopefully mean he’s able to hold up the ball, bully defenders, offer a direct route as well as bringing others into play, however, it will remain to be seen how much of a goal threat he offers. Personally I think the club is doing it right, reinvest the money in young, hungry players who will fit in with the TEAM and not breaking the bank for a player who really, doesn’t have anything to prove.
Now I’m not denying that having a striker who can score goals is important, I still think it’s imperative we add at least one more forward player but should we expect 30 goals from this player or Grot? No, that would be unfair. Now a days, the game is more than just poaching goals in the opposition box and I always believe you should play to your strengths as a team, at the minute ours is the spine of the team and our choice of attacking midfielders. Whoever can slot in and bring others into play as well as creating chances for themselves is best suited for us.
Sure there might be games where chances are missed and we start to wonder “would Wood have scored that?” That’s football. None the less, Wood’s departure has the potential to bring out the best in Saiz and Roofe in particular and this for one excites me. I still believe the goals will come for us, only this time, the scoring won’t be reliant on just one man, but four or five others and if you are to achieve promotion, you can’t just rely on one player scoring goals. So as is with any potential blow to a club when a key player leaves, it’s down to the team to step up and thrive in their absence.
Reporter – Daniel Howard