When Charlie Taylor dumped petrol on his bridges with Leeds United and lit a match on his way out the door, a huge hole was created at left back for the club. And while almost every other position was addressed in the summer transfer window, the left back position was left somewhat alone, with only Manchester United loanee Cameron Borthwick-Jackson brought in as cover for right-sided Gaetano Berardi.
Leeds are now paying the price for a failure to properly address the left back position. For the past few weeks, midfielder Vurnon Anita has been drafted into playing on the left after spending almost all of last year for Newcastle in the right back slot. Anita broke into the Ajax team as a left-back, but it’s been obvious that he is not as comfortable on the left. And while it might be a little mean, Anita is earning the nickname “toast” because he keeps getting burnt.
Anita is having a really difficult afternoon and there he fouls Fred who was heading towards goal. #Millwall— John Kelly (@JKelly1882) September 16, 2017
Millwall wrote the script in their victory against Leeds on how to exploit the otherwise dominate Leeds defence. The right winger and right back continually put pressure on Anita and were able to get in a number of crosses into the box from the right, with Anita either helplessly running after the winger or he was left in space, unable to deal with the pressure.
Now some of this pressure was down to the lack of pace and tracking back of Pablo Hernandez, but a good portion of the problem was down to Anita not being good enough to defend the opposing wingers. And against Ipswich Town, once again a lot of the attacking thrust from Ipswich came down the right, as it seems that this will be the source of attacks against Leeds in the coming weeks.
Ipswich are attacking down the right every time like Millwall did. Anita the weak link there? Job for Berardi IMO.— I Hate Leeds (@ihatelufc) September 23, 2017
Gaetano Berardi did good work down the stretch last season filling in for the oft-injured Charlie Taylor at left-back, but the right-sided fullback isn’t necessarily going to be the long-term solution at left back for the club. What he lacks in skill, Berardi makes up for with passion and hard-work, but the Championship is a tough enough league where a fill-in solution will eventually be exposed.
The other option to replace Anita in the lineup, Borthwick-Jackson, looked quite poor against Burnley. Now part of that might because of his absence from the lineup and a lack of minutes, or perhaps his unhappy spell at Wolverhampton last season is a better indicator of his ability than Leeds fans were lead to believe. Either way, it doesn’t look like he’s going to see the pitch in anything other than Cup matches anytime soon. It is telling that despite his ability going forward, winger Stuart Dallas looked more defensively responsible when switched to left back in last 30 minutes and in extra time during the Burnley match.
Madger Gomes fires a shot from the edge of the Newport box after linking up well with Stokes 0-0 pic.twitter.com/y4TJdYjIgE— Leeds United (@LUFC) August 22, 2017
Right now in the Academy, it looks as if winger Madger Gomes has been spending time at left back, as he has come in and played at left-back a couple of times in preseason and in the League Cup match against Port Vale. His performance on the wing against Newport County, however, showed that his future lies up on the wing, not as a fullback, and should be considered a fill-in, not a permanent solution.
Victor Orta has said that he really only likes the January transfer window to fix issues, and unless Berardi can come in and lock the position down, it appears that Orta will need to find a solution at left back. Even if Borthwick-Jackson somehow puts it all together and plays well this season, a lack of a left footed fullback is a long-term problem as the young starlet will likely go back to Manchester United at the end of his loan spell.
This problem isn’t going away, and it might seem a little unfair to pick on this point now, while Leeds is top of the table and playing some of the best football that’s been seen at Elland Road in almost a decade and a half, it is worrying that Ipswich almost got a result going after Anita just like Millwall did. These kind of issues can derail an otherwise stellar season, and rather than stand pat and hope for the best, the club needs to find a solution, even if it’s a stop-gap one. Bringing in a veteran to do a job and help the club solidify the position in January would be a good way to help the team achieve its goals.