Will the lack of central midfield options ultimately punish Leeds United?
09 Sep 2021 09:19 am, by YorkshireSquare
The summer transfer window may have slammed shut, yet that hasn’t jammed the cogs turning the rumour mill that perpetually surrounds Leeds United. Journalists and fans alike continue to debate missed opportunities, while speculating what the winter transfer window might bring.
Following the painful 16-year absence, Leeds enjoyed a hugely positive return to the Premier League. The team, led by the imperious Marcelo Bielsa, finished 9th in the table, more than 30 points clear of the relegation scrap. Even more impressive, they were just three points behind a spot in the new Europa Conference League, and just six points shy of qualifying for the Europa League.
Of course, ardent fans will inevitably have looked at this as a springboard, the platform on which the club might build and possibly aim higher. Reality seems to indicate that will be a tall order, looking at the latest English Premier League odds from Betfair, with the Whites valued 13/2 possibilities for the top six and 33/1 outsiders for the top four.
We all know that Bielsa is very particular about who he signs, carefully studying what they can offer his team, which roles they can fill and whether they are capable of dovetailing with his concepts. This undoubtedly makes life complicated for Victor Orta whenever he prepares any shortlists for potential transfer targets.
One player high on the list during the summer was 22-year-old midfielder Lewis O’Brien, although TeamTalk say Leeds baulked at the price Huddersfield Town were asking. The Terriers are keen for the player to sign a contract extension, although if negotiations drag out, that could provide an incentive for United to try again in the winter transfer window.
In the meantime, many fans across the forums have expressed a certain level of concern, wondering if there’s enough midfield cover to see the team through. Painfully aware that injuries to key players could leave the team short, Bielsa usually turns to shuffling his pack, relying on the positional flexibility of other players.
Most of the time, the tactical switches and redeployments used by Bielsa tend to work, although natural central midfield options do seem to be somewhat limited, especially in the defensive midfield slot or the double pivot roles. Perish the thought, but if Kalvin Phillips gets injured for any length of time, it’s a big hole to fill in his absence.
Another possibility open to Leeds is to consider free agents, who can still be signed between transfer windows. Leeds Live listed five potential options, with Jack Wilshere and Nabil Bentaleb highlighted as interesting midfield candidates, both capable of providing backup. Truth be told, neither would probably be suited for anything more than warming the bench.
Essentially, it all boils down to confidence in Bielsa and even more importantly, his apparent contentment with the squad he currently has to work with. Hopefully, Leeds will manage to avoid any serious injury or suspension problems, thus reducing the need to be concerned about depth of options in midfield.