Leeds’ recent games against Watford and Wigan were clear indicators of the teams strengths and weaknesses, as a growing formidability at home was curbed but not blunted by a free-scoring Watford, whilst The Whites’ heart and mental-fortitude was displayed in coming back from two goals down as well as grinding out a victory against a well-staffed but disordered Wigan Athletic. Our season has so far been peppered with these contrasting results, comfortable but unremarkable wins along with wild goal-feasts.
It’s a clear improvement from last season though, with Brian McDermott’s side playing with a purpose and direction missing in the curmudgeonly slog of last season, with Ross McCormack’s logical positional change best exemplifying this. Though games have been thrown away from decent positions, like at Huddersfield and Blackburn, the caprices in the team’s form this season have a much less deadening familiar air about them, less of a wearying inevitability. The great contrast to last season is no more apparent when I see Leeds fans talking about promotion not being vital this season, with a view to the future, of next season, with a faith in the progression of the team and its players. This attitude was non-existent last term, as Warnock led the team on with a medieval slugball style befitting a man without any discernible long-term vision. Times are different now, and the promise of major investment in January by a consortium of wealthy businessmen has driven this new positivity to somewhat giddy heights, such was the swiftness of its announcement. All of a sudden, phrases like ‘war chest’ and ‘significant investment’ were being banded about with a frequency and merriment which grew after a cold defeat to Blackburn, only to lull naturally. It’s a strange time to be a Leeds fan, to think that in January we could go out and spend potentially 3 million pounds on a new recruit feels a little unreal, but exciting at the same time.
Still, some fans aren’t convinced, having experienced so many false dawns before, but with the tranche of well-informed and quote-heavy articles written on the subject, it’s fair to assume that Brian McDermott will money to spend in January around the 3-5 million mark. This serious money injection, whatever it may be, comes at quite an interesting time with regards to the squad of players the Leeds manager has and the formation he has crafted to suit them. Pre-investment news and without any real wingers in the whole squad, it looked as if we’d have to focus our meagre resources directly on the areas where the need for bolstering was at its largest. Now it seems McDermott will have more space to think, to choose, and just more options. The desire to add wingers remains not because the team necessarily lacks width, as Danny Pugh, Lee Peltier and Sam Byram have provided ample amounts of it in these past two games. No, it is instead the case that this Leeds side has a shortage of truly direct players, dribblers who are always looking to carry the ball, are happy to receive it in tight areas and generally commit opposition players to open up space for the rest of the side.
Some have suggested that McDermott should look to add players better suited to our playing system and thus keep the balance in the squad. Adding instead of wide players creative attacking midfielders. However, there are very few of these players that Leeds would be able to purchase, such is the ability required to play such a position, the stock of these players is generally quite high, thus wide players present more realistic targets. Paddy McCourt would have been perfect, as his much-lauded displays for Barnsley have come filled with the kind of direct running that this Leeds side sometimes sorely lack. Despite this, McDermott has the necessary tools available to gain much from the January market. At long last, this club can go into the winter transfer window with a manager who possesses a rational and organic thought process not afflicted by chronic short-termism or incredibly flawed decision-making, the exhibiting of which was none more evident in last January’s window for The Whites. Habib Habibou, Ross Barkley, Stephen Warnock and Steve Morison came in, the last of which arriving on a swap deal that saw Luciano Becchio move in the opposite direction. Of these players only Stephen Warnock has forged a constant association with the team, whilst Ross Barkley’s promise was cruelly ignored by Neil Warnock. In a blatant sign of the backwardness of the former Leeds manager’s thinking, the young star was sent back to Everton after having played only 4 times.
More pointedly, the club’s top goal scorer was swapped for a relatively inept replacement in Steve Morison, with Habib Habibou quickly turning into an afterthought despite his great name. This year, The teams needs are much the same as last year, and the difference of manager and financial resources should fill every Leeds fan with positivity, as it does me, given the marked contrast to the club’s position this time last season. What’s more, Leeds have an all-round better side to last season, with Alex Mowatt adding commensurately to the quality of the midfield, Matt Smith yielding a steady trickle of goals and Marius Zaliukas the authoritative centre-back the team has missed for years. Most obviously, the decision to utilise Ross McCormack in his favoured central striking positron is coming off a superbly. The loan market, though quiet, proved profitable to Leeds as the team added to its burgeoning talent with Dexter Blackstock, who unfortunately had to end his loan stay prematurely due to injury. What his addition did highlight though was the quality that can be picked up as a window progresses. If anything, this window will be even more open in January, with a much greater pool of talent to choose from.
Clearly, it won’t be quite as simple as adding 4 players on the 1st day of January, but with the greater expertise the club has and money to play with, there is reason to be excited about new arrivals in January. Hypothetically, if £5 million was made available, Leeds could afford to dip into the kind of talent pool that for so many years has been far away. The money could help towards luring players into loam deals, as clubs are much more amenable to loaning out their players to teams who can pay full wages. Some real talent could be picked up this way, like Matthew Albrighton at Aston Villa. Overlooked for much of this season, his future is very uncertain with a contract that runs out in June. Elsewhere you have Cameron Stewart, the speedy winger so influential against Leeds for Charlton but available for loan again from Hull in January. Ryo Miyaichi isn’t anywhere near the first team at Arsenal but is an immensely skilled player who would benefit from regular game time, whilst Sammy Ameobi’s bright start at Newcastle has frittered away to subs-bench servitude. Max Gradel, a player so revered among the Leeds faithful after his succesfull three-year stint at the club, would be the kind of player of that galvanizing ilk that Brian McDermott so desires. It would be an incredible, but increasingly possible return, given his lack of opportunities thus far this season with Saint-Etienne.
The striking position is also an area of the side that, though grievously well stocked, still arouses worry. If Ross McCormack got injured could Matt Smith carry the can? Varney? Poleon? Anyone else? These are questions that you can’t avoid when looking at the goalscorers in the team. Nahki Wells could be a player to take up the mantle if he was bought, and it’s a big if, as well as the fact that his prodigious scoring at league two and league one level may not guarantee similar numbers in the Championship. Still, he is another with a contract which will run out this summer, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see other Chamiponship clubs put offers in. If such a situation arises, he could be worth a punt. In any case, we can afford to dream a little, and just maybe, through some astute business, this Leeds side can make more lasting inroads into the top six with a bit more threat and danger about us. Watford’s attacking play was a fearsome reminder of the way speed can cut through defences, and players of this persuasion would certainly add to the quality and diversity of the Leeds starting XI. With a little added directness and incision, a sustained charge up the league is entirely possible, with the added weapon of our marvellous support base. Brian McDermott will be wary of unnecessary upheaval, as he will want to maintain the abundant spirit his group of players has. A look at the form guide for the past eight games shows how Leeds are transforming under their manager, as they stand second with 15 points gained. The 1st of these games was, no less, the drubbing of Brimingham, where McDermott switched to the 3-5-2 formation that has suited this squad to a tee, getting the best out of the teams stand-out performers like McCormack and Rodolph Austin. Clearly the team needs more, but it is refreshing to know that ‘more’ is attainable. Not with a wearying narcissist at the helm, but someone with foresight and a genuine understanding of managing a team of men.
On a separate note, we have added a new T-shirt to the shop for sale. The Zaliukas Tee which can be found in many different colours by clicking here