The obvious criticism of our recruitment (and perhaps Bielsa himself) is the comfort the club professed of a small squad. Marcelo didn’t want an enormous roster full of players he’d struggle to deploy when required – instead he preferred to train a smaller but more purposeful set of players. But – as we’re now finding out – that traditional Leeds United luck has reared its ugly head again.
Patrick Bamford has joined the club and picked up a posterior crucial ligament (PCL) injury playing for the U23 squad in their win against Bristol City. Kemar Roofe has apparently picked up a knock (rendering our first and second choice strikers now injured). Pablo Hernandez has been injured in training and could be out for 3 weeks or so, while Gaetano Berardi is still not fit after his injury against Middlesborough.
Injuries happen, they’re an inevitable part of football and they’re obviously likely given our fitness-intensive training and Bielsa’s high standards, but the lack of depth means that Leeds are already needing to bring in more fringe players to plug gaping holes. Without question, Pablo and Roofe leave enormous boots to fill. Berardi – while brilliant so far – at least has Pontus Jansson ready, eager and capable of re-taking his first team place (a player who is perhaps only out of the picture due to his prolonged leave after the World Cup). Jansson taking over at the back against a side like Millwall suits me perfectly – we looked vulnerable to set pieces against Boro and it’s likely that Millwall will deploy an equally physical tactic against us. After all, a physical, high-pressing game against them last season was what Liam Cooper cited as the undoing of our entire season.
But it’s the absence of Hernandez that will affect our play the most. Saiz performs better when there’s a Pablo nearby. Hernandez has the ability to dictate play in ways that others can’t – he’s intelligent on the ball and his growing tally of goals and assists this season does little to argue against his tremendous importance to our results. My personal view would be that Jack Clarke is the natural replacement (albeit at the opposite end of his career). Clarke has looked excellent for the U23’s and must be knocking on first-team consideration as a result – his ability to play in the position that Pablo has vacated temporarily makes me even more confident in this move. Of course there’s a duty of care to the lad, in that there are few harsher environments than playing away against Millwall when injuries are stacking the odds against you in which to make your debut. But when I watch Clarke play and I consider that Stuart Dallas is our alternative – it makes me want to take the gamble. Dallas will likely get the nod because he’s dependable and defensively minded when it matters – but Bielsa’s Leeds should seek blood ahead of every game and that makes me want the confident attacking promise of the younger lad than Dallas who is a solid rotation option.
The absence of our first and second choice strikers isn’t ideal, though it presents the perfect opportunity for Tyler Roberts to demonstrate why he was worth signing. He’s rusty (having himself been injured since Christmas until the Summer) but short of deploying Edmondson (who should be on the bench), Roberts is our best senior attacking option.
Ultimately it’s going to be hard to get a result against Millwall and our growing injury problems aren’t helping, but if we believe in the Academy to plug senior gaps we might just get through. I don’t doubt that Bielsa knows what he’s doing, but we’re just famously unlucky with injuries. BPF and Jamal Blackman will no-doubt injure each other in training next, while Barry Douglas accidentally breaks Alioski’s left leg, breaking his own in the process. It’d be very Leeds, at least.