There are many questions, and not many answers at the striker position for Leeds United right now. Can Kemar Roofe lead the line? Will Pierre-Michel Lasogga regain the form that saw him almost single-handedly save Hamburger SV from relegation or continue to waste his talent? Will Jay-Roy Grot or Paweł Cibicki be able to get regular playing time to justify their place in the squad? And will Caleb Ekuban recover from injury in time to make a difference?
The sale of Chris Wood came at a rather inconvenient time for the club, as his £15 million move to Burnley was completed around two weeks before the end of the transfer window. It would have been ideal for Wood to leave the club back in July, so that a new striker could have been identified, signed, and brought in for training camp so that he could settle into the first team, as the rest of the players have. However, that’s not how transfers work these days, and when Premier League clubs like Burnley are able to outbid even high-flying Championship clubs Leeds, these sort of moves are all too predictable.
So where does Leeds Untied go from here? Chris Wood and his 30 goals are gone, leaving a massive hole at the striker position. The club has a few different options right now, either going with the new loanee from the Bundesliga, Lasogga, or going with the existing player, Kemar Roofe, who has been played out of his preferred position since his arrival from Oxford United.
Lasogga appears to be somewhat of an enigma. He’s played brilliantly in the past, scoring a remarkable number of goals while on loan at Hamburg in the 2013-14 season, scoring 13 goals in only 20 appearances. He made the switch from Hertha Berlin permanent the next season, but only managed another 13 goals in the next three seasons for Hamburg. Last season was the worst yet, as he scored one goal in 20 league appearances for HSV.
So which Lasogga will Leeds get? If he’s able to rekindle the magic while at Leeds, he’s going to go down as one of the best loans deals of the year in England, much less the Championship. However, if he’s not able to, he’s going to just get in the way of one of the other strikers at the club and be a problem in the dressing room. While he is a risk, it’s not a bad one to take. Even if his time at HSV has gone sideways, Leeds have only got him on a loan and so aren’t fully committed to paying a rather large transfer fee.
The best internal option for replacing Chris Wood falls to Kemar Roofe. As we noted before, he deserves the chance to start up front for Leeds. He scored 9 goals as a centre-forward for Oxford in his last season before moving on to Leeds, and while it’s been a small sample size, he’s scored four goals in the last two matches, including the opening goal at Nottingham Forest. While it might be easy to simply slot in the new number 9, Lasogga, at the starting striker position, Roofe is making a good case that he should be given a chance to prove himself in the upcoming matches.
With midweek games and Cup matches coming up, Thomas Christiansen has the opportunity to rotate his strikers, and so he has a few weeks to decide which option he likes best, either a like-for-like swap with Lasogga taking more of the classic target man role, or instead relying on a smaller, quicker player like Roofe up top.
Speaking of target men, many fans are buzzing at the potential of the Dutch starlet from NEC, Jay-Roy Grot. The club hyped up his arrival to an unhealthy degree to start his career off, but in limited minutes against Forest, he did a fantastic job and showed the promise that justified him going from the second division in the Netherlands to the Championship.
However, young players need playing time to excel, and unless he’s going to get a run out in the U23s, Grot might be wasted sitting on the bench at Leeds. It’s all well and good to be a physical player brought on for the last half hour or so to punish opposing centrebacks and take the game to the other team in the dying embers of a win, but to grow as a player and translate his potential into actual skill, he’s going to need some time to play through mistakes and challenge himself. What he does have going for him in terms of playing time is his ability to play on the wing, as he showed against Forest, he’s more skill that simply a target man, and he seemed comfortable with the ball at his feet.
Another striker that was brought in at the window, Paweł Cibicki from Malmö FF, also has the ability to play as a winger. Again, he’s relatively young at 23 years old, and has potential to be a good player for the team. But can he make the pitch? At striker, he would seem to be either the third of fourth option right now, and as a winger, he’s not much better off, as he’s behind Gjanni Alioski, Stuart Dallas, and Pablo Hernandez. If he does get into the team, it would likely be at the expense of Hadi Sacko or Madger Gomes or even Grot.
So will we see Cibicki on the pitch this week? If he does come on, it will likely be a cameo appearance late in the match. The best way to think of his signing is that he’s coming in to replace Sacko and keep Gomes in the U23 team, where he can continue to grow as a player.
Ghanaian forward Caleb Ekuban suffers injury for Leeds United in win over Sunderland https://t.co/7cWmbsilMX— Ghanasoccernet.com (@Ghanasoccernet) August 21, 2017
And what about Caleb Ekuban? With all of the new strikers that have come into the team, he’s been kind of forgotten about. He was brought in from Chievo Verona after tearing up the Albanian First Division, and has done something that the three new players haven’t done: score a goal for Leeds United. His injury looked bad, and while the club has remained mum, reports are that the injury is going to keep him out for awhile. When he does come back, he’s yet another young striker that is going to need playing time.
So where does this all leave Leeds?
Right now, the best option would be to allow Roofe to start the next match this weekend against Burton Albion, and then possibly see what Lasogga can do next Tuesday against Birmingham City. Either way, with four games in the next 10 days, the club’s depth is going to be tested. With the flexibility in the roster, some of the “strikers” brought in at the deadline might see themselves lined up on the wing, providing cover for Alioski and Dallas.
If Roofe continues to shine and Lasogga finds his scoring touch again in Yorkshire, this will be a very good problem to have. The club has already scored a number of goals this season without Wood being around, and now that the reinforcements have arrived, they might not be needed to save the day after all.