Without a doubt in my mind this is the most promising season Leeds have had in the championship for 5 years, since the season under Simon Grayson in 2010/11. I remember that campaign really well, not only because it was the last time I had a genuine hope Leeds might make something of a season, but also because it was (for some reason) my favourite team I think we’ve ever had in my lifetime.
The attacking flair was great with 2 quality wingers in Max Gradel and Robert Snodgrass and a blonde bombshell of a Luciano Becchio up front: they were fun to watch week in week out. As with most Grayson teams though, we leaked goals something rotten and that inevitably cost us as we finished the season in 7th. It also, of course, cost Grayson his job as he was relieved of his duties early the following year.
Saying this was one of my favourite seasons as a Leeds fan is a strange thing to say as a guy who was brought up in the days of Batty, Speed and Viduka, but it’s true. That squad put me on the edge of my seat every single week. The aforementioned attacking flair coupled with the fan unity/hatred of Bates helped made the season something special.
That was, until this season. We have a new villain in Massimo Cellino, a new leader in Garry Monk, a new wingman in Hadi Sacko, and a new(ish) goal scorer in Chris Wood. The comparisons between the two seasons could go on and on, so I recently took a look back at the most used starting XI we had that year and started day dreaming about what a combined Grayson/Monk XI would look like.
The answer is a beautiful thing. Two of the best squads we have had in over a decade, combining Monk's back 4 with some of Grayson’s attacking flair would all but nail Leeds promotion to the Premier League.
Here's what my Grayson/Monk Starting XI would look like...
There were many tough choices when putting this Starting XI together though. Let's go through it.
Schmeichel vs. Green.
Okay this one was a no-brainier if I’m being honest. I’m still a massive fan of Kasper the friendly keeper and his latest exploits of wining the league show that he has class above Leeds current no 1. I don’t think Green is a bad keeper in any way, even with Sunday's mistake, but he’s losing out on this one easily.
Grayson’s most common back four was McCartney, O’Brien, Bruce and Connolly. So when I said this was a difficult process I kind of meant the attacking 5. In terms of back 4, I would have to go for Monk’s entire back line any day of the week. This is without a doubt in my mind the most solid defensive unit we have had since we’ve been out of the top flight, bring them in as a unit.
This is where it started to get difficult. In the centre of the park for Grayson, we mostly had Neil Kilkenny and Bradley Johnson. Monk changes this area from game to game, but assuming all are fit I would say Liam Bridcutt is our best midfielder, and he trumps Kilkenny. Bradley Johnson was great though, still is great, I’d take him back in a heartbeat. One player from each in the centre of the park.
Bridcutt-Johnson in defensive midfield.
At left wing it’s Max Gradel or Stuart Dallas. Having to choose between one of these breaks my heart. I truly think Dallas is great and when he’s back up to full fitness, he’ll play a major part in our play off push, but Gradel, oh Gradel. I still dream at night of Max dancing around players. It’s got to be Max, sorry Stuey.
Right wing comes down to Snodgrass or Sacko. This one’s a little easier. As good as Sacko is, and he is good, he basically has no end product, or at the very least a very inconsistent end product. Over the course of the season, this could be a difference maker. Snodgrass however is true Premier League quality and easily makes the cut here.
Gradel-Snodgrass on the wings.
In the number ten slot, its either Pablo Hernandez or sweet Jonny Howson, probably the second toughest decision in this XI. Howson was great for us and has been a very good captain for Norwich since he betrayed us. Ahem. I mean left us. Hernandez though is a different class. He may be a little out of his prime, but his vision is on another level at times and it’s his experience that will drag us though games. I give Hernandez the starting spot.
Right, this is controversial, and I’m ready for the abuse in the comments section, but I’m going for Chris Wood over Luciano Becchio. Becchio will always be in my heart, but if he didn’t have class on the wing firing him quality balls into the box each week, I don’t think he would have been anywhere near as good. Becchio didn’t have the work ethic for me and although his natural finishing talent was there for all to see, I just think Chris Wood brings more to an overall team.
Wood's holdup play and work ethic add a dimension that is needed in the championship. Yes he misses sitters, and yes he’s as glum as f*ck where as Becchio was just a handsome bast*rd. But Wood will still get us 20+ goals this season and he’ll bring more to the team that just that.
My Grayson/Monk Starting XI:
Schmeichel, Ayling, Bartley, Jansson, Taylor, Bridcutt, Johnson, Gradel, Snodgrass, Hernandez, Wood.
So, what are your thoughts? I’m sure this will divide opinion depending on how you look back on the Grayson era. One thing for me though is that in the attacking department you could swap any of them about and we would have a promotion worthy midfield/striker. It’s defensively that Monk has the edge and in a long 46 game season that could prove all the difference in the end. MOT