The Fulham match on Tuesday gives Leeds fans an opportunity to determine what kind of rotation philosophy that Thomas Christiansen plans on using this season at Leeds United. Unlike in years past, where the squad was often thin at most positions, the team looks to have depth in almost all positions with the exception of central defence. With a quick turnaround in league play, Christiansen will need to decide if he’s going to stick with the lineup that played in both league matches or swap the players like he did for the League Cup match in midweek.
One key area that could use rotation to keep the players fresh and involve more of the squad would be the central midfield. Eunan O’Kane was one of the better performers against Bolton Wanderers in the opening match of the season, picking up where he left off in the friendly against Oxford United. He appears to have the faith of the head coach, and looks to be one of the first names on the teamsheet, in contrast to last season when he was stapled to the bench by previous manager Garry Monk.
The other central midfield position, however, seems to be up in the air. Kalvin Phillips surprised many fans and pundits by pairing with O’Kane in both the Oxford friendly and in the game away at Bolton. Of course, with his two goal outburst, Phillips showed why the new head coach had started him ahead of Young Player of the Year last year Ronaldo Vieira and former captain Liam Bridcutt. Against Preston yesterday, however, Phillips came back down to earth a bit, and while he wasn’t the worst player for Leeds, he was inconsistent and was unable to perform at the same high level as he did against Bolton.
61' Double Substitution, as Kemar Roofe and Kalvin Phillips have been replaced by Samu Saiz and Ronaldo Vieira pic.twitter.com/ralPwk2423— Leeds United (@LUFC) August 12, 2017
So who will Christiansen turn to against promotion favorites Fulham? Ronaldo Vieira was absolute class in the game against Port Vale last week, and he looked good against Preston in the 30 minutes he was on the pitch. Of course, both he and Samu Saiz came on the pitch when Preston were reduced to 10 men after a red card for Ben Pearson and Leeds were searching for a winner, so it’s not as if the situations were identical.
Mateusz Klich looked off the pace against Port Vale and seems to be still shaking off whatever aliment he was carrying during preseason, and with Fulham in town, it might not be the best decision to have him start and try to go the full 90 minutes. Liam Bridcutt might be the best defensive midfielder that Leeds have, so perhaps Christiansen should go with the pairing that seemed to work for so much of last season, and pair Vieira up with Bridcutt in the middle.
1' barely 30 seconds on the clock and Kalas is shown a red card for being the last man and bringing down the Reading attacker #FFC— Fulham Football Club (@FulhamFC) August 12, 2017
However, given that Fulham are currently reeling after a draw against Reading FC where they were reduced to 10 men inside of the first minute, it might be best to start a revitalized O’Kane along side Ronaldo Vieira. Both of them can pass the ball into the final third and pick out attacking players, something that will likely be needed to break down the West London side’s defence. Bridcutt also should be included on the bench, as his stability and defensive prowess might be needed late in the match to preserve the points if Leeds go ahead. Phillips might be good to go on the weekend, and Klich should be given a couple extra days to find his fitness.
This is a good problem to have for the head coach, however, as having options and being able to choose from a stable of midfielders will likely help with the marathon of the Championship season. It’s frustrating to see the team get stuck in the quicksand of a tough, physical game by a side that at times seemed to be looking to play rugby instead of football, but a point is still a point, and several months and 44 matches still remain on the schedule.