Leeds started their pre-season preparations at Thorpe Arch on Monday, and there were a few welcome new faces to the training ground.
These new faces came largely in the form of the new manager, Uwe Rosler, and a bustling centre forward from New Zealand named Chris Wood. He is far from being the clubs record buy, but for some younger fans he may well feel like it. After all, Wood is the most expensive signing the club has made in 13 years and it is the ambition shown as much as the player signed that should radiate a sense of optimism.
Wood has had mixed fortunes during his time in England, but has at times shown great potential and all the raw attributes are plain to see. A great loan spell at Milwall under Kenny Jackett was probably Wood’s most productive period and now it's up to Uwe Rosler and the rest of the squad to ensure Wood gets the service to hit the ground running at Elland Road.
The marquee signing of Wood to lead the line at Elland Road is a very good start in this market, but expect more faces to come in and strengthen the side, as well as a few to leave the squad in the coming weeks. But Wood hasn't been the only signing.
There have been other signings; Sol Bamba has signed after his fantastic loan spell, Lee Erwin has come in from Motherwell to provide an attacking option, and Charlie Horton, who has been brought in to provide competition for Silvestri.
Erwin is a big, strong player, with deceptively good feet, who could offer a threat out wide or centrally for the club. Many expected Erwin to lead the line going into the season before the arrival of Wood. His signing leaves the club with a fair bit of strikers, and I would expect one or two to leave the club before the season starts.
Billy Sharp seems the most likely at the moment with Sheffield United interested in the Yorkshire lad and there seems to be not much blocking that transfer happening in the near future. Others may well leave the club, but at this point, I'm only going to look at two areas we still need to strengthen at this current moment.
The areas we need to improve in:
The two areas that the club should be looking to address are in central midfield and in the wide areas, and the noises coming out of the club seem to be that they are already trying to address these areas.
In central midfield we have some quality players who can shine at times in the Championship. Lewis Cook and Alex Mowatt both had outstanding seasons last year and both could have fantastic careers in the Premier League.
Mowatt improved immensely last season and his goals and fantastic delivery led to some pivotal results that kept the club out of trouble. His left foot really is a wand and he really could kick on this season and be one of the league’s outstanding players. Meanwhile, Cook’s energy and intensity lifted the whole team when he came into it and his importance showed as his injury towards the end of the season coincided with a poor run of from the team. At such a young age Cook showed unbelievable confidence and promise, hopefully his development continues this season.
However, we cannot rely on these two young lads to carry the burden every single week. The team needs to give these two players the platform to shine and to do this, they may well need some experience and steel alongside them. Rosler has spoken openly about his favoured formation being 4-3-3, and this could result in Cook and Mowatt being either side of an anchor man in midfield.
Luke Murphy had some brilliant games playing deep in midfield last season after he came back in to the side. It was pleasing to see him starting to show the ability and confidence that made us pay Crewe £1 million for him a couple of summers ago, and Murphy sitting in midfield behind the two academy graduates would be as good a ball playing midfield 3 as you will find in the league.
However, the Championship isn’t a league you can always dominate possession in and the 3 of them together may lack a bit of awareness of what’s around them and the defensive mind set you sometimes need. This isn’t to say Murphy should leave or shouldn’t play many games at the expense of a new signing. This is a tough league and a long season where we will need options across the pitch, especially in midfield. The other senior midfielder in the squad is Thomas Bianchi.
Bianchi never seemed to make his mark at the club last season before his bad injury against Reading in February ended his season. It would seem unlikely he would start the season near the starting line-up and further signings could push him further back down the Que.
Kalvin Phillips is another young midfielder who could have a bright future and may get some pitch time next season if he is not loaned out to a team in the football league. To add to these midfield players someone with the ability to anchor a midfield should be a priority to bring in for a bit of stability and to offer a different option.The promising news is the club have been linked with this type of player in recent weeks.
Joey Barton and Steve Sidwell are two players to be linked recently. The Sidwell link appearing to be slightly more realistic at this stage. Both players have experience in this league and the Premier League, and in fact both have managed promotions from the Championship during their playing career.
Barton’s wages appear to be a major stumbling block at the moment but as the summer goes on Barton’s demands and thoughts could change. Say what you want about the midfielder but he is a very effective player and could be a massive player for any Championship side.
Steve Sidwell is someone who did not play much football last season, largely due to the upturn in form from Charlie Adam and Mark Hughes preference to pick Glen Whelan. However, at 32, Sidwell still has a couple of years left and, a drop to the Championship with Leeds, as well as the chance of regular football, could tempt a player who has real quality.
With Barton on a free and Stoke unlikely to demand much of a fee for Sidwell, it's likely to be left to the players to choose their future should we declare an interest. If these two targets don’t materialise, then the club would no doubt have other targets in mind. The new man does not necessarily have to be overly experienced so long as they come in with a slightly more defensive mind-set than our current crop.
Potential targets, albeit a bit more unlikely due to a fee beign required, could be Rohan Ince from Brighton or Nathaniel Chalobah if Chelsea decide once again to loan him out. Two young players who are happy to sit in front of a back four and protect them who could well do a good job for the club. These are just 4 names and there are countless other players that the club are no doubt looking at and it will be fascinating to see if the club can bring someone in as pre-season gets underway.
If there is one area of the pitch we most need to strengthen, it is surely in the wide areas. During Leeds’ first season back in the second tier, Robert Snodgrass and Max Gradel were the two wide players supplying the strikers. These two excelled for the club and Snodgrass especially was one of the best wide men at this level during his time at the club. This level of quality is something that the club has never come close to replacing since the two mentioned players left to pastures new.
Last season ended with the Leeds using their two promising full backs as wingers and this is something that we surely must move on from this season. Sam Byram and Charlie Taylor are two fantastic young players who can offer a real outlet from the full backs position. They should be able to offer width from deep in a 4-3-3 but they are not be as effective in the forward wide roles. Alex Mowatt was also forced out wide at times with varying levels of success. He did well there at times, but always looked more dangerous when he picked the ball up centrally and this is surely where he will start most games next season.
That leaves the club with very little out wide, although Erwin could be used out on the right of a front 3. Nicky Ajose Is someone Rosler has singled out as starting pre-season well and is probably as quick as anyone in the squad and may yet have a role to play. Despite this, wide players with the ability to go past players and deliver into the box must be top of the clubs list of targets and the money invested in Wood makes it even more important we get the supply from wide to help him.
Adam Drury is a young lad on trial who was previously at Man City and Rosler’s prior knowledge of the player suggests the player may well get a chance if he impresses in pre-season. However, it should be the rumour linking Leeds with current City winger Brandon Barker that should excite the fans. Barker is a player who has come through the ranks at City and has shown real promise in their Under-18 team and more recently their Elite Development Squad.
Barker plays out on the left, is more than capable of going past players on the outside or inside and has an eye for goal with either foot. He has been accused of poor decision making at times but is surely young enough to have this coached out of him as he develops. Nothing has been confirmed yet and there would be no guarantee of success signing a player with no first team experience, but Barker’s style of play and potential would surely get Leeds fans excited if anything materialised.
As well as these two, there would probably be a few other young wide players available from Premier League clubs on loan who could look to kick-start their career at Elland Road. Shelvey Ojo is a young winger at Liverpool, who impressed while on loan at Wigan at the end of last season and could be available again, while Joao Teixeira is a player who impressed for Brighton whilst on loan from the same club and even scored at Elland Road in a 2-0 win for Brighton early on last season.
Teixeira is currently injured after a bad injury towards the end of the season but could become available again once he recovers from his ankle injury. If we wanted to look for more permanent options then we may have to look at players in the lower leagues and one name heavily linked is Jamie Murphy from Sheffield United. With 11 league goals last season Murphy certainly had a good year and could be involved in a swap deal for Billy Sharp. Another rather ambitious rumour has been Simon Pepe from Juventus, with the Italy factor seeming to be the most likely reason behind the rumour but never say never with this football club.
I’m sure the club may well look to strengthen other areas if players leave or if the right players became available. These are just the two areas I feel we would be left short if we started the season with our current squad.