Leeds United boss Daniel Farke needs to utilise his gifted squad players more often if he wants to bridge the gap to second-placed Ipswich Town and gain automatic promotion to the Premier League.
The Whites have slipped to fourth in the Championship following yesterday’s defeat against Preston North End, with Southampton leapfrogging them into third. Ipswich Town’s recent blip has opened the door slightly to both of last season’s relegated teams though, but Farke must take advantage of what he has at his disposal.
Leeds’ Talented Squad
The level of talent that the manager has available to him, especially in attacking positions, is outstanding as Dan James, Joel Piroe, Crysencio Summerville and club-record signing Georgino Rutter currently make up Leeds’ first-choice attack.
But, this leaves them with the likes of Patrick Bamford, a proven goalscorer with an England cap; Jaidon Anthony, who hit 15 goals and assists the last time he played in the Championship; and Wilfried Gnonto, who has been linked to Champions League knockout contenders Lazio, sitting on the bench more often than not. That is without even mentioning Joe Gelhardt, who fellow play-off chasers Hull City are considering a £6 million move for, and Ian Poveda.
Farke also has promising young defenders Charlie Cresswell and Leo Hjelde available, both of whom had successful loan spells in the Championship last season with Millwall and Rotherham respectively, as well as £5 million summer signing Ilia Gruev.
The aforementioned squad players have started a combined total of 14 Championship games this season and this could be a problem in the long run for the German manager.
The Intense Fixture List
The first reason is the jam-packed fixture list which Championship clubs have to contend with. With the hectic holiday schedule now in full flow, it is incredibly unlikely that the former Norwich manager will be able to get his side through that run without incurring any injuries if he does not use the squad that is available to him.
Bamford, for example, is an incredibly talented player who achieved 24 goal contributions in the 2020/21 Premier League season and was in the 97% percentile for non-penalty xG. But, if Farke suddenly needed to use him this season, the former England international may struggle to find his goalscoring touch as he has only played 176 minutes so far. This run of fixtures represents an opportunity for the German manager to get his number nine back into form which could prove pivotal later in the season.
The Risk Of Players Becoming Disgruntled
Farke also needs to rotate his squad in order to keep players happy, especially as he has already seen the ramifications of a disgruntled and disjointed squad at the start of this season.
Gnonto made four appearances for Italy at the start of this season despite being just 19 years of age. However, his lack of minutes for the Peacocks has seen him fall out of favour with Luciano Spalletti, even though he wins more fouls per 90 than 93% of Championship wingers and averages more successful dribbles per 90 than 81% of wingers.
Farke should look to rotate Gnonto with the other attackers that he has in order to keep him happy and to allow him to develop as a player. If he does not do this, it could lead to the diminutive attacker pushing for a move in January which would leave 47-year-old without a very promising player and it could be a problem beyond this season.
The youthful nature of Leeds’ squad means that it has an increasingly high chance of getting torn apart in the summer, regardless of whether the Yorkshire giants can get promoted, and Farke should already be lining up players to take their places.
Archie Gray is the subject of interest from Liverpool and the Reds are reportedly willing to pay up to £50 million to secure his services, whilst Crysencio Summerville is attracting interest from Everton, Bournemouth and Burnley.
Perhaps the Leeds boss should give more opportunities to Jamie Shackelton, another central midfielder who can play as a full-back in order to ease the blow of Gray potentially leaving. Despite his recent struggles with injury, Shackleton has impressed when given an opportunity by his 47-year-old manager this season as he has an 88.3% overall pass accuracy and a better long ball accuracy than any other midfielder in the division.
Jaidon Anthony is an option out-wide for the 2021 Championship Manager Of The Year in case Summerville leaves and his underlying stats prove that he deserves a run in the team. He wins possession in the final third 1.24 times per 90 which is more than 92% of wingers and something that is key to Farke’s high-pressing system. He has largely been used off the bench this season, with just two of his 16 league appearances coming from the start, but he could blossom into a top player if given the chance.
Could Rotating Upset Momentum?
Admittedly, there is the risk of rocking the proverbial apple cart when rotating a team. Dan James has rediscovered his best form this season as he has scored seven times and provided four assists in the league meanwhile Summerville has 11 goals and six assists and has arguably been the best player in the second tier so far. Rotating these players could disrupt their rhythm and derail Leeds’ promotion push.
However, rotating players will not only aid the development of the likes of Gnonto, Gelhardt and Cresswell but it will also mitigate the risk that comes with injuries. If one of Leeds’ preferred 11 players was to get injured now their replacement would have to come into the side out of the cold and could take a few games to get up to speed or even get injured themselves due to a sudden increase in minutes.
That is why it is vital that Daniel Farke begins to rotate his Leeds United side in the second half of the season.
NB – All stats correct at the time of writing.