Leeds United are displaying signs that they can mount a successful challenge for promotion this season after riding out a difficult start to the campaign under new manager Garry Monk. The 37-year-old was the seventh man hired by owner Massimo Cellino in his two-and-a-half-year tenure to guide the Whites back into the Premier League.
Despite losing four of their opening six fixtures the club appear to trending in the right direction, leaving them just outside the playoff places. Their defeat to Newcastle United shows that they are off the pace of the Championship’s elite outfit, but there were enough promising signs to emerge from the contest – and the subsequent, gritty 2-1 away win at Rotherham this past weekend – to prove that a return to the top flight could even happen this season.
Monk’s men are currently backed at 12/1 in the latest betting odds with 32Red to earn promotion, suggesting that the Whites still have a way to go before being considered true contenders. Monk has a decent squad of players at Elland Road, but it might need strengthening when the transfer window opens in a few weeks in January, although it could also offer the chance for other sides to pluck talent away.
Keeping the Best Talent at Elland Road
Lewis Cook was signed for £9 million by Bournemouth last summer, robbing Leeds of one of their most talented youngsters. However, the midfielder has struggled to break into the first team at Dean Court, with the possibility of the 20-year-old returning to the Whites on loan until the end of the season, raising the talent levels in the middle of the park.
Another player to have left the club to join the Premier League is Sam Byram, when he signed for West Ham United last January. Despite being at the club for the past 11 months, the defender has yet to make himself a permanent fixture in the starting line-up after failing to convince Slaven Bilic of his worth to the Hammers. The examples of these two players may convince rising stars Charlie Taylor and Alex Mowatt that a move to the top flight is not all that it is cracked up to be.
Strengthening the Forward Line
Chris Wood’s goals have been vital to the Whites this season and he has become the one player that Monk can ill afford to lose in January. The striker has scored nine of the club’s 21 goals this term, but the big man can’t do it all by himself and with summer signing Kemar Roofe so far failing to find the target, it might be wise to strengthen their striking options.
The club’s ambition should be to retain their best players given their current standing in the Championship, putting talent around Wood instead of selling the New Zealand international, using sponsorship money to fund deals to push their credentials for promotion. Their first port of call should be to sign a strike partner for him due to the aforementioned struggles of Roofe and fellow recent arrival, Marcus Antonnson.
Both players have contributed just one league goal between them (coming from Antonnson), putting huge pressure on Wood to find the net. Leeds are currently averaging just over a strike per game, which makes signing another forward a pressing need.
Leeds are beginning to take the right steps off the field, striking a partnership with 32Red to adone the famous white shirt, but now they need similar results on the pitch to ensure that the club return to the Premier League as soon as possible with adding a forward from the lower depths of the Championship or the hottest property from League One a major priority to support Wood.
Even without the presence of injured captain Liam Bridcutt, the Whites have a strong midfield due to the emergence of Kalvin Phillips, Ronaldo Vieira and Pablo Hernandez. Eunan O’Kane and Alex Mowatt further highlight the depth of talent at Monk’s disposal, giving the club one of the strongest engine rooms in the division. A potential loan move for Cook would only strengthen their options and his box-to-box style could perhaps add a goal threat to alleviate the burden on the front line.
Vieira is the latest name to rise through the Leeds youth system, and he could be the surprise factor that drives them towards the top-flight should he continue to improve in the middle of the park, although the club will have to be wary of the 18-year-old attracting attention from the big boys in European football.
Bolstering the Defence
Defensively, Leeds found a gem in the loan signing of Pontus Jansson, who has starred in the heart of the Whites’ defence this season. Only leading promotion contenders with Paddy Power and Unibet, Newcastle and Brighton & Hove Albion, have a significantly better defensive record than Monk’s men this term and a lot of their success has been due to the presence of Jansson. Signing him on a permanent basis would be a signal of intent from the club, along with retaining the services of Taylor at left-back.
Leeds are in a solid position and have their first real chance at promotion back to the Premier League since they reached the playoffs in the 2005-06 campaign. Unlike other sides in the Championship they have strong infrastructure away from the pitch due to the size of their stadium and loyal fanbase. The next nine weeks will be crucial in terms of recruitment and their ability to hang on to their best assets to aid their charge towards the top flight.
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