Leeds United had a large influx of players during the summer transfer window, but one of the areas that seemed set was the central midfield position. After all, the returning captain, Liam Bridcutt had been a mainstay of the side under Garry Monk and only one central midfielder, Mateusz Klich, was brought into the squad. Most expected an increased role for Ronaldo Vieira, but beyond that, not much seemed likely to change.
However, during preseason, it started to become apparent that the forgotten man in Monk’s midfield, Eunan O’Kane, was going to play an increased role in the middle. Combined with the advances of Ronaldo Vieira, who starred in the Toulon Tournament for the England U20s, and Kalvin Phillips, it appeared that not only was O’Kane seen as a key midfield pivot, but that Bridcutt was reduced to being the fourth or fifth option for Thomas Christiansen.
Liam Bridcutt makes his Nottingham Forest debut against former club Leeds United (Nottingham Post) https://t.co/EutAO4XCca— Nottm Forest news (@NottmForestNews) August 26, 2017
Therefore, it was not surprising that Bridcutt was allowed to move to Nottingham Forest before the closing of the window, and while the club will have its depth tested by midweek matches and Cup games, the central midfield appears to be in good hands with the duo of Phillips and O’Kane.
O’Kane has been one of the key performers so far this season, putting in remarkable performances in nearly every match this season. And while the glory and the goal scoring has largely gone to the attacking players such as Samu Saiz, Kemar Roofe, and Gjanni Alioski, one of the reasons that Leeds United is currently undefeated is because of the play of the central midfield.
And while most people expected Ronaldo Vieira, the reigning young player of the year at the club, would get one of the starting spots in the midfield, such is has been the play of fellow Leeds Academy product Kalvin Phillips that Vieira has largely not been missed from the lineup. Vieira has shone brightly in the Cup matches that he has featured in, and even in relief, but until there is an injury, it appears that the duo of Phillips and O’Kane will start in the middle for Leeds.
Despite being a high-profile transfer, Klich has found playing time hard to come by. He seems to be a valuable bench option right now, and perhaps he is still finding full fitness after being injured in preseason. Either way, he is experienced and should provide good cover either as a substitute or starting Cup matches or when Christiansen starts to rotate the lineup.
And although Vurnon Anita has been played almost exclusively as a full-back for the club, he is also a player that can provide cover at central midfield. He’s played much of his career as a midfielder, and seems to be a good utility man that can start when needed in a variety of positions.
I like Phillips' tackle before Alioski's goal more than the actual goal. That's Leeds that. #lufc— Peter Daglish (@peter_daglish) August 27, 2017
The central midfield position is now a position of strength at the club despite losing the former captain Bridcutt, and it is not even because of transfers or new players brought in. Christiansen has deployed his midfielders in such a way as to play to the strengths of his players. Rather than use the central midfield as a defensive brick, Christiansen has used them almost as double-pivots responsible for not only protecting the backline but as a creative force to spring the attacking players free. O’Kane has been particularly good at picking out key passes, and Phillips has gotten almost as much praise for his critical tackle that sprung Alioski for his wonder goal against Forest as he did for his brace to open Leeds’ account against Bolton Wanderers on the opening day of the season.
Bridcutt will not be missed, and that is no slight to the former Brighton & Hove Albion and Sunderland player. The midfield, like the rest of the team, is playing brilliantly and is one of the key reasons that Leeds is currently sitting on a four match league clean sheet streak and a undefeated in all competitions.