One of the benefits of supporting a winning football side is that we can enjoy debating the performance of our players. In years gone past, there was no need to rank anyone who played for Leeds United. There was often one or two solid performers each week, but the rest could be described as ordinary. Losing really sucks!
Luckily for us all, the days of United being a perennial loser appear to be over. Our saviour Garry Monk is a beautiful man.
Monk is harnessing the talents of almost every man at his disposal and there is just so much depth in the squad right now. And while this makes compiling any Leeds United player rankings a difficult exercise, it’s exciting nonetheless to look over the roster and enjoy the performances of each United player so far this season.
I must admit that this an entirely arbitrary exercise based on one man’s opinion (mine). I know it’s a virtual guarantee that everybody who reads this will think I’m a moron at one point or another, so this is my pre-emptive apology. Or pre-emptive recognition maybe... you are likely all correct; I might be a moron for attempting this, but here goes nothing.
For a variety of reasons, I have not ranked the following players.
Marco Silvestri: Let’s be real here, Robert Green is Monk’s keeper and has played every second, sans two League Cup contests. Silvestri has performed well in limited minutes but there isn’t much else to add.
Liam Bridcutt: Our new skipper has already been out for a month with his injured foot, and looks set for an extended stint on the sidelines. Get well soon, Liam.
Souleymane Doukara, Toumani Diagouraga, Luke Murphy and Tyler Denton. This group has combined for six appearances this season. They are officially on the outer.
Now to the rankings.
16. Alex Mowatt
Before the season started, I thought Mowatt would be key to our successes. Boy, was I wrong. Mowatt has been relegated to the bench and has become an afterthought in a crowded midfield. The 21-year-old has only made four league starts since Monk took the reigns.
15. Liam Cooper
You could almost copy and paste my Mowatt comments when it comes to Cooper. He finished last season as the first choice centre back but now looks redundant due to the rich form of Pontus Jannson and Kyle Bartley. Cooper could be in for a long winter on the bench, but still, depth and number 15.
14. Kemar Roofe
Young Kemar has experienced some growing pains during his first year in the Championship. There is quality and skill in his legs, no doubt about that, but Roofe is clearly still adjusting to the speed of football at this level.
The strong performance of the first team has made it hard for Roofe to find reliable minutes on the pitch. Expect him to rise up this ranking as he gets more comfortable and the season progresses.
13. Ronaldo Vieira
After spending most of August in the first XI, Vieira has fallen into a reserve role during the past few weeks. His performances early in the season were promising and a demotion speaks more to the strength of those around him than criticism of personal output. Vieira’s performance against Cardiff was an exciting glimpse into the future.
12. Marcus Antonsson
Finding a spot the big Swede was very tough. On one hand, I’m a massive fan of Antonsson and still believe he can be a very good striker at this level. There’s just one problem: he hasn’t shown it yet, especially in the last month. Antonsson has only scored two goals this season and hasn’t played a full 90 minutes since late August. Chris Wood has supplanted him in the starting XI and that doesn’t look like changing anytime soon.
11. Kalvin Phillips
The Englishman has been solid through the midfield over recent weeks. Phillips has started each of the past four league games and been a key contributor to United’s rise up the table. He will never be confused with the flashiest of footballers, but Phillips is quickly becoming a favourite of mine and a key cog of Monk’s team.
10. Stuart Dallas
Judging the season of Stuart Dallas is not an easy exercise. He remains a very talented footballer and has been contributing to a winning side. But the Northern Irishman has been unable to recapture his best form from last season. Hopefully it is right around the corner.
9. Hadi Sacko
This man is the best right winger in the squad, without question, so it hurts to put him this low. Sacko has played in every League match this season, and just like his teammates, is performing better with every passing week. There is a strong claim to be made that the Frenchman is the best performing midfielder at United this season.
8. Chris Wood
Cue the hatred from the entire country of New Zealand! (editor’s note: Ben, from Australia, loves your hatred, Kiwis.) Look, Wood has been finding the back of the net. I would not even dare argue with that. It’s the opportunities that Wood has squandered which see him slide down this ranking.
I judge strikers on the amount of chances they miss, not the easy opportunities that put away. Wood remains a striker who is a benefactor of his environment, as opposed to one who creates chances off his own accord. He has enjoyed a fine start to the season but there is more untapped potential sitting in this big Kiwi.
7. Robert Green
I honestly can’t believe he is ranked this high. After a disastrous start to the season, one in which the defensive woodwork was performing better than Green, the veteran shot stopper has turned things around. United only conceded three goals during September and Green deserves some credit for this. The defensive unit deserves more, but Green has undoubtedly been part of the solution as the season has turned around.
6. Pablo Hernandez
The Spaniard has delivered on the pre-season hype so far this season. Hernandez has been influential, operating in his newfound attacking role and quickly replaced the departed Lewis Cook as United’s talisman through the middle. The only mild criticism of Hernandez is a lack of goals. Hopefully we will see a repeat of these Cardiff antics very soon.
5. Luke Ayling
This man might be the most underrated footballer at Elland Road. The right back has played every minute of the league campaign and is a member of the suddenly reliable backline.
4. Charlie Taylor
It’s hard to believe Taylor wanted out of the club two months ago. He sure isn’t playing like somebody thinking about leaving. Taylor has picked up where he left off last season and continued his stellar play at left back. With rumours swirling that an upgraded contract has been offered, hopefully recent on-field success will be enough for Taylor to re-sign.
3. Eunan O’Kane
Acquiring O’Kane has softened the blow of losing Lewis Cook. Thanks for returning the favour A.F.C. Bournemouth! While O’Kane has only played five matches for United, his form has been exemplary. He has stepped into the role vacated by Bridcutt and looks to be another shrewd signing by Monk. And he earned several votes for September Player of the Month from others on our staff. He’s one to watch for October’s honors.
2. Pontus Jannson
In the space of two months this man has captured our hearts and minds. Seriously, I cannot think of a more popular United player since we left the Premier League in 2004. Jannson was voted the people’s champion in the September Player of the Month Reader Poll, a fitting accolade for our new favourite centre back. May the Power of Pontus live on!
Fantastic performance! First time i've enjoyed a game from start to finish for years. Time to go out and get absolutely Pontus Janssoned— Pontus Fan Club (@pontusfanclub) September 24, 2016
And my number 1: Kyle Bartley
A controversial call for some, I think Bartley has been the best Leeds player so far this season. He has played the most minutes, assumed a leadership role in the absence of Bridcutt and has been an all around legend on the pitch this season. I voted for him for September Player of the Month, and while he didn’t win it, he should’ve. The goal that turned around our season:
What did you think of Ben’s rankings? Is he a crazy man? Leave a comment below, on Facebook or Twitter. MOT.