Garry Monk has a plethora of talent at his disposal within the centre midfield position... and each individual has been given the chance to show why he deserves to take centre stage in the Leeds starting 11 for the remainder of the 2016/17 season. However, none have taken the chance to own the moment, to make one of the two defensive positions undeniably theirs.
Even with the win on Tuesday against Bristol City, our form has dipped in recent weeks and the performances of the players in the centre of the park are now under the spotlight. So, I thought it was worth looking at all the available options and deciding which two should start in the middle of Monk’s 4-2-3-1 for Leeds United’s promotion run.
Liam Bridcutt is our captain. The Scottish international signed a permanent deal with the club in August and has made 15 appearances this season. Bridcutt holds all the attributes you want in a defensive midfielder and his ability to break up the player and release the pressure on the defence often goes unnoticed. He has the capability to find, pick up the ball and feed the attacking players, and you will often find that he makes the first pass in a counter-attacking move.
In my opinion, regardless of the occasional lapse this season, captain Bridcutt’s quality and excellence at this level means he is the only clearly definite starter.
When we signed O’Kane back in August, I personally didn’t know much about him at all. However, it isn’t a coincidence that when O’Kane arrived at Elland Road Leeds started to improve. During the home fixture against Ipswich, you could see the difference in the team and his influence on it.
He controlled the whole game and he was constantly organising the team around him. If stats are a measure of the influence of a player in a team, Leeds only lost once in the first 10 games that O’Kane featured for the Whites. Like Bridcutt, an injury interrupted his season, but in the next 14 games, we will need O’Kane’s knowledge and experience at this level if we are to make to the Premier League.
The young Bissau-Guinean footballer has burst onto the scene this season and looked like an unbelievable talent against Bristol on Tuesday. His strength and dominating presence in the midfield is a thing to behold from such a young player.
My only concern with Vieira is that, at such a young age, the intensity of the Championship (especially in away fixtures) sometimes gets to him. He has struggled on occasion over the last few months and he sometimes gets overrun in the middle of the park. Vieira is a top-quality footballer and could be a future star, but in certain games the more experienced midfielders should start.
The academy product has lost his place in the XI in recent months, but before Christmas, he showed the vast quality he possesses and played an integral part in the early part of the regeneration of our season. Phillips could be great, and we’ve seen flashes of that this season. His problem however is similar to that of Ronaldo Vieira: he plays really well on occasion, and other matches see him disappear, unable to deal with the intensity of the Championship. Due to the need of cover because of injuries, Kalvin was also overplayed and he might have burnt out. He is another quality youngster, but I think he still needs time if he’s expected to play week in week out in the team.
The defensive midfielder role is often under appreciated by fans, but as Leicester City have found out this season, the lack of this type a player can make or break your season. The defensive midfielder covers for the defenders and breaks up the play, he also supplies the creative players with the ball, the spark for most of a team’s goals.
They are the glue within a successful side, and I believe Leeds currently have the best of both worlds now: two vastly experienced midfielders and two future superstars at the club working together. It is hard to remember a time when Leeds had the strength and depth that they currently have in these important positions. Bridcutt, O’Kane, Vieira, and Phillips are all solid options. Looking forward to seeing them lead us to promotion. MOT.