As the Championship season draws to a close and the nervous excitement of the play-offs begins, Leeds United still have one burning question to answer. Who is their number one striker?
Marcelo Bielsa has alternated between two systems all year which he rarely wavers from, both involving a single striker up front. Tyler Roberts’ natural position before joining Leeds was thought to be as a striker, but under Bielsa he has predominantly played as a sort of false-nine in behind the lone striker. Having had such little game time up front on his own, it is unlikely Roberts will feature there in the play-offs, leaving Patrick Bamford and Kemar Roofe as the only viable options.
Over the past weeks and months, Patrick Bamford has started every game mostly due to Kemar Roofe’s struggles with injury and fitness. Now, according to many reports Roofe should be back for the Ipswich game, and hopefully the whole play-off run. Bielsa has a decision to make; bring in a likely not match-fit Roofe, or stick with the out of form Bamford?
For many fans, this would be an easy decision. It is no secret that Bamford has been very poor in the past few weeks, which has coincided with Leeds shambolic run in front of goal. The team have only managed to score three goals in the past four games, and although the blame for this could be due to poor service in the final third, Bamford’s obvious lack of confidence on the pitch should be a huge worry to the coaching staff.
Bamford has been too isolated & has had to drop deeper to have any influence. Supply lines to him have been suffocated, with opponents flooding central areas. Midfielders have resorted to efforts from range offering little threat. Roberts changed the game v Villa & opened doors.— LUFCDATA (@LUFCDATA) April 29, 2019
To add to this, he didn’t exactly improve his standing with the Leeds faithful against Aston Villa on Sunday. Capping off one of the least effective games he has had in a Leeds shirt, Bamford’s only decisive action of the afternoon saw him feign a head injury after no more than a tap from Villa’s Anwar El Ghazi.
Patrick Bamford faces a two game ban if he is found to have deceived referee Stuart Atwell during Leeds’ game with Aston Villa.— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) April 29, 2019
Will it be enforced?
More: https://t.co/ikkHIay5Kb pic.twitter.com/ts8nxI6PvR
A frankly embarrassing piece of acting may even see Bamford ruled out of Sunday’s clash with Ipswich, and the first leg of the play-off semi-final if an FA review panel find him guilty of ‘deceiving a match official’. It’s hard to see how they wouldn’t.
Yet Bamford, who has scored 9 goals in 22 appearances in the league this year, has dealt with similar criticism before. During a barren run of four starts without a goal in March, Bamford answered his critics with two superb goals against Preston North End, reminding everyone of the raw talent he possesses and seemingly thriving under the pressure from the fans. Maybe, just maybe, he can do the same in the play-offs.
Barring any further complications, Kemar Roofe is expected to return to the squad against Ipswich after missing the Aston Villa game because of a hip injury. The 26-year-old forward has 14 goals in 31 appearances this season making him Leeds’s top scorer. However, had he not missed large chunks of the season to various injuries, this total would probably be a lot higher.
Throwing Roofe straight back into the side would be a risky call from Bielsa, and quite an uncharacteristic one too. Risking aggravating Roofe’s injury worries and disrupting the flow of the side right before the play-offs could cause numerous problems for Leeds at such a critical time in the season.
Kemar Roofe should be back for Ipswich away and the play-offs but Marcelo Bielsa now has four left-back options on the sidelines:https://t.co/6AlntMmMhD— Phil Hay (@PhilHayYEP) April 29, 2019
But maybe this is exactly what the team needs? It would represent a change of direction offensively after such an uninspiring showing of late. What Roofe brings to the team is a bit of dynamism and a sense of urgency up front; something that has been lacking recently with Bamford’s performances. Yes, Roofe isn’t a natural born goal scorer, and yes, there is no way he will be match fit for Sunday, but what have we got to lose? If Leeds are going to have any chance in the play-offs they are going to need their shooting boots, something which Bamford has left at home of late.
Leeds' last 5 matches:— LUFCDATA (@LUFCDATA) April 23, 2019
27 shots on-target
3.5% conversion rate
Absolutely shambolic conversion rate. Leeds have created more chances than any other Championship side this season (577), but we're the fifth-highest scorers (70). Poor end product. #MOT pic.twitter.com/WH6C31Rdow
Whoever Bielsa decides to pick up front needs to more clinical than they have been in the past few weeks. Marcelo Bielsa, knows this has been a problem all season, saying:
If we want to speak clearly about why we don’t have ten points more, we just have to take a look at… how many chances we need to score a goal.
Although the vilification of Bamford recently has been an unjust example of kicking a man when he’s down, if I was Bielsa I’d go for Roofe. Replacing a bereft of confidence Bamford could reinvigorate a front line that seems lost for ideas at the moment, and also give Bamford a break from the spotlight after a highly controversial week for the 25-year-old.
This team needs a spark of momentum going into the play-offs. They need to show the grit and determination they showed against Villa at the weekend but combine it with some quality and composure in front of goal. We all know this team will create chances, now let’s finish them. And if there’s any reconciliation, a game against already relegated Ipswich Town is an ideal place to start.