It has been well documented that Leeds United have an abundance of central midfield players. But what is the right combination? We will probably have a better idea of what the manager is thinking when we see the team for the friendly against Pep Clotet’s Oxford on Saturday but as of right now, how should we line up? Who will wear our new black kit away at Bolton?
Despite Luke Murphy’s loan move to Burton Albion and Toumani Diagouraga being told he can leave the club, there are still 7 players who would expect to be in and around the first XI who can play in central midfield. Only 2 of these will play as during pre-season we have played a 4231 and I would be surprised if that changed.
The Options - Strong chance
Ronaldo Vieira – 19 – Young Player of the Year last season and a worthy winner in every sense. For a first full season of first team football, he played with all the assurance of a player in his 30s and became a key player in the side. He showed himself to have the talent, strength, and tenacity to play at this level (and probably a higher one). He isn’t the greatest player in attack but improvements will be made there with time and I would be very surprised if he is not in the side for the Bolton Fixture.
However, a player his age shouldn’t have to be relied on and it may not be the best thing for his development for him to have to play 90mins every game. Especially with the number of games in a Championship season.
Eunan O’Kane – 27 – The Republic of Ireland international was dropped from the side at the back end of last season at a time when many thought we needed him most. He was out of the side for the majority of our horrible end of season run following the March international break, missing the defeats to Reading, Brentford, Wolves, and Burton which ultimately wrecked our season. He came back into the side for the 3-3 draw with Norwich in our final home game, and although the first half was abject he was many people’s man of the match in that game. He has also looked good in pre-season and if I was in charge he would be in the team against Bolton.
Not a great performance today but Eunan O'Kane was our best player with ease. #lufc— Adam Room (@AdamRoom17) May 7, 2017
Kalvin Phillips – 21 – Another of a long line of players to come through the academy system at Leeds, Phillips has often been a player that people like the idea of more than they actually like him. Last season he was inconsistent but showed glimpses of the player he can be, his performance off the bench against Birmingham turned the game in our favour and gave us a 3-1 win in a game we could easily have lost. There were a few too many games where he looked lost in the middle of midfield and teams were able to break us down because of it so he is by no means the finished article. Phillips has looked good in pre-season though, something which cannot be said for all of our CM options, and has got people calling for him to be in the side come the 6th August.
Liam Bridcutt – 28 – No-one is quite sure what happened with Bridcutt last season. He was fine in the 1st half of the season but his performances dropped off to an alarming degree and many people consider him one of the most at fault for our terrible end to the season. He was too deep, gave the ball away and let players run off him far too much. He is currently still club captain but I expect that to change as right now, I don’t see his place in our starting XI. He also hasn’t impressed in pre-season. He was run ragged in the 1st half against Eibar before being replaced for the second half, where both the team, and the midfield pair of Phillips and O’Kane looked much better. If he can return to form then there is no doubt that he is a very good midfielder at this level, unfortunately I get the feeling the only way he returns to form is with a change of scenery.
The Options - Best of the Rest
Mateusz Klich – 27 – Hard to say much about Klich really. He joined the club for a decent fee and he seems like a good player from what you see/read online but he has missed all of pre-season so far. As of writing, he has just resumed full training so he may get some football against Oxford but the first game will definitely come too soon for him. He is a Poland international and I would expect him to come into the side as the season goes on.
Vernon Anita – 28 – Would have more chance of playing in Central Midfield if Pontus Jansson wasn’t suspended for the first match. Based on our pre-season games the manager sees him as a better option at full-back than he does in midfield so I would be very surprised to see him line up there at Bolton. He will more likely play at right or left-back for that game, especially if Ayling moves into centre-back for the game.
Pablo Hernandez – 32 – Pablo Hernandez played a few games as a deeper midfielder last season but wasn’t particularly impressive. His defensive play wasn’t really up to playing that deep and his fancy flicks and tricks, while fine 30 yards from our opposition’s goal, are a scary prospect when playing deeper. I expect he will be in the side at Bolton, just playing further forward.
So, there are our options. Personally, I would go with Vieira and O’Kane but I can see the argument for a Vieira/Phillips, a Vieira/Anita, or an O’Kane/Phillips partnership. I feel like O’Kane’s passing and calmness on the ball will complement the work-rate and tackling of Vieira and if they are disciplined in midfield it will allow the 4 more attacking players a bit more freedom. This freedom should allow the likes of Hernandez and Alioski to open up Bolton, which we should be looking to do as it is a game which on paper I fancy us to win.
Who do you think will line-up in middle against Bolton? Let me know in the comments or on twitter @JackRobshawLUFC or @mightywhitespod