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So, another 9 months of madness is upon us and after a surprisingly successful 2016-17 for the first time in a decade it appears that Leeds are genuinely heading into a season at this level with genuine optimism of being a competitive outfit at this level. However, there are still doubts about whether Leeds can go one step further than last time out.
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The New Boss?
Losing Garry Monk is a body blow, made all the worse that Monk landed the Middlesbrough job after a couple of weeks of unemployment. Thomas Christiansen has been appointed and arrives at Leeds having impressed in Cyprus at AEK and Apoel Nicosia. Particularly at Apoel were it is reasonable to assume that his exploits in Europe last season ultimately landed him the job. Thanks to Monk’s great work last season Christiansen has great foundations to build on. Christiansen also has the massive advantage in comparison to previous recent managers of having a competitive transfer budget to work with. Christiansen has so far been very impressed in his approach to interviews and appears to be aiming to build a connection with the fans early on, never missing an opportunity to praise the magnificent support during pre season. He might ‘not be a big name’ at first glance but when you look a little bit closer at his career so far and who he has worked with (Johan Cruyff the most noteworthy) it is very clear that he is a far cry from previous recent appointments such as Hockaday and Evans. The pressure is on Thomas to push the team on to the next level, the hope is that he is given time like Monk was, should we have a poor run of form early on or at some point in the season . Ultimately the minimum target for Christiansen this season has to be finishing in the top 6.
Can Matthew Pennington fill Kyle Bartley’s shoes?
Perhaps the main question mark of the first 11 appears to be who will partner Pontus Jansson at centre back. The only signing in this area so far has been Matthew Pennington, so can he be the man to replace Kyle Bartley and partner Pontus Jansson? Everton views appear to be mixed on the player; some supporters appear very passionate about the potential of Pennington whilst others are less enthusiastic about the youngster. He certainly seems to have a similar level of composure to Bartley on the ball but will he be able to replicate Bartley’s positional sense and leadership skills over the season? He most definitely showed both qualities in abundance against Oxford, however, appeared to be far less comfortable against better opposition in the form of Eibar the week before. Pennington will be massively helped by having one of the best (if not the best) centre backs in the league next to him, you only have to look at how much Kyle Bartley’s game improved from the start of the season when he had Jansson’s presence next to him last season from September onwards. Time will tell whether Pennington can replace Bartley but what we do know is that Pennington has very big shoes to fill. If he is anywhere near as good as our last loan singing from Everton (a certain Ross Barkley) we should be excited very excited by this arrival.
Is Mateusz Klich the missing piece in the midfield jigsaw?
The problem Leeds had last season was the capacity to only play a 4-2-3-1, in the end it was a system that became too easy to defend against for a variety of reasons. The question is how can Leeds change formations this time around? Step forward Mateusz Klich, Klich offers Leeds tactical flexibility due to him offering a key combination of solid off the ball work and creativity. Klich essentially allows Leeds to play any system they want: 4-2-3-1, 4-4-2, 4-3-3 or 3-4-3. Last season we didn't have a mutli functional midfielder who could allow us to try a different formation. It would be selling Klich very short to say that all he offers is merely tactical flexibility for Thomas Christiansen. This is a player who made a huge impression in Holland’s Eredevise last season and is massively popular for his country with some Poland supporters demanding his return to the national team’s starting 11. Klich is the man who should make the midfield tick and ensure that we have a greater control of games than we did towards the end of last season. Klich offers the vision and passing range to be the man who turns defence into attack through one clever pass. Klich only played 12 minutes against Oxford but was without a shadow of a doubt a contender for the man of the match award, if that was Klich unfit last Saturday Championship midfields should be very fearful of a fully fit Matteusz Klich. Klich should also combine very well in a midfield 2 with Eunan O’Kane a key player from last season. It’s Klich’s capability to play as a deep lying playmaker as well as the conductor of the team that makes him seem like such a major asset to the side. Klich already looks likely to be one of the best midfielders in the league.
Have we strengthened our options out wide and in the number 10 role?
Yes, the arrival of Ezgjan Alioski is very very exciting offering goals and pace on the counter attack . Alioski along with Felix Wiedwald and Matteusz Klich can most definitely be considered a marquee signing and his goals alone could be the difference between a push for promotion and missing out on the top 6. Another interesting arrival is that of Samu Saiz a versatile forward who mainly plays in the number 10 role. The Spaniard appeared to have a breakthrough season last year for Huesca, the signing represents another option to Pablo Hernandez in the number 10 role who struggled towards the end of last season. The hope is that Saiz will settle into the championship more than last seasons loan signing Alfonso Pedraza. Kemar Roofe is a player I am tipping to have a much improved second season at Leeds, Kemar has had an excellent pre season and appears to be playing higher up the pitch this season than he did last season. Kemar did ok last season, however, I am very confident that he will find more consistency and we will see him at his best this time around. The hope is that Alioski and Roofe provide us with more creativity and goals than our wingers and attacking midfielders of last season. Stuart Dallas and Hadi Sacko could be options from the bench or maybe even pushing for starts but both will need to perform better than last season. Stuart Dallas has been the star man of pre season and is another player like Roofe who appears to be enjoying his role more under Christiansen. It is fair to say we most definitely look stronger in this area than we did last season.
Can Wood get 30+ league goals this time around?
Leeds undisputedly have the best striker in the championship currently amongst their ranks in Chris Wood, no one can match the New Zealand international in terms of finishing and hold up play. With Chris Wood in the side there is always hope, even when we played poorly last season Wood regularly got Leeds out of trouble and for me was without doubt the best player in the league last time around. Wood managed an astonishing 27 goals from 44 shots on target last time out and with more creative players around him he has a massive chance of getting 30+ goals in the league this time around. Wood’s link up play and creativity should also provide a great platform for Ezgjan Alioski and Kemar Roofe to add goals to the team. The one problem is if Wood gets injured Leeds look like half the team especially last season and the season before, there are no convincing options so far that could fill Chris Wood’s shoes. Leeds have got an incredible talent in Wood but it is imperative that we keep hold of the big man and that we can keep him fit for the whole season. If Wood can keep himself fit all season and Christiansen can make us more creative I think we are very likely to see a 30 goal season from Woody.
Although the squad is of undoubtedly better quality than any squad we have had for the last 10 years or so. The starting 11 seems too reliant on all of our new signings being a success and the law of averages suggests one or two may not be a success. Another key concern is if one of Wood, Pontus or Klich gets injured it seems unlikely we can replace them with our current squad. The loss of Garry Monk and Kyle Bartley cannot be underestimated as well. In an increasingly competitive battle for the top 6 I think we will just miss out sadly. However, a smart signing in the summer or January transfer window could potentially make all the difference.