In a new feature, Jonny Lilley will be taking points from the season so far and asking some valuable questions along the way.
Today his first article for the site talks about Leeds’ midfield and how Jonny Howson could have been a major improvement.
Leeds United’s central midfield has been one of the main debates for Leeds fans for the past couple of seasons.
Ever since we’ve adopted the 4-2-3-1 system the two holding midfield places have mainly been occupied by an experienced midfielder in O’Kane or Bridcutt along with a youthful player in Phillips or Vieira.
Discussion was rife among fans as to which was the best pairing for the team. It was sometimes difficult to make your own opinion at times as the form of players naturally comes and goes at this level.
If you asked me at the start of this preseason I’d have happily said O’Kane wouldn’t have been a big miss if he left and Kalvin Phillips could do with being loaned out to get consistent game time to further his development.
O’Kane went on to have an impressive preseason and there were whispers from fans and the press that O’Kane could end up being captain, which raised more questions as to why Garry Monk refused to give O’Kane a look in towards the end of last season when things started falling apart for Leeds.
As for Phillips, under Garry Monk’s defensive style he was restricted (as were the team) in showing what he can do further up the pitch as we focused on staying tight at the back over getting bodies forward.
Under Thomas Christiansen though Phillips been given a little more freedom to go forward which has added much needed goals to his game, something Leeds lacked massively last season, goals from midfield.
Another bonus with allowing Phillips further up the pitch is that he can break down play and win the ball back high up the pitch, shown brilliantly against Nottingham Forest for Alioski’s goal.
The departure of Bridcutt early on in the season meant that Leeds’ central midfield options were O’Kane, Phillips, Vieira and Klich. The club also had Anita & Shaughnessy who are being preferred in defensive positions.
Ronaldo Vieira has been eased into this season as he had a busy summer playing for England in the Toulon tournament and had to nurse a slight injury problem.
Leeds’ first signing of the summer Mateusz Klich has had a frustrating start to his Leeds career after only being given a handful of appearances so far and no consistent run in the team as Phillips and O’Kane have been the main pair for the whites in the league.
I still feel Leeds need a bit more depth to their midfield, something different to what we already have. A player who I feel would have been a great fit was linked with Leeds in the summer, Jonny Howson.
I myself i’m not normally one for bringing back ex-players for nostalgic value and I genuinely think Howson could have been the missing piece of the jigsaw to our central midfield.
That being said I can’t deny that he was my favourite player when i was a teenager and I still proudly own a shirt with his name on. As soon as the rumours of a return were flying around social media I struggled to contain my juvenile excitement.
I thought to myself this is it he’s coming home to drag us back to the premier league. As if his time at Norwich was some sort of training camp to come back bigger and stronger for his true purpose and fulfil his destiny with Leeds. But it wasn’t meant to be and the move to boro stung even more so as he linked up with Garry Monk at the Riverside.
In the win over Boro, Phillips and Vieira dominated a Middlesborough midfield which included Howson with Leadbitter at his side. Two midfielders full of experience so you may be wondering why I rate Howson so highly.
As I mentioned, form comes and goes and it’s a long old season in the Championship so it’s good to have options. Jonny Howson is well accustomed to playing in most central midfield positions whether it be an attacking role or a holding position pulling the strings. I personally think Howson is more naturally suited to an attacking midfield role which would currently come at the cost of moving Samu Saiz to the left wing.
Something which I wouldn’t even consider as Saiz has been Leeds’ best player this season without a shadow of a doubt, you want him in his most effective position.
Saiz is a player so comfortable on the ball with technique and ability well beyond the championship. If something was to happen to him through either suspension or injury (god forbid) then going forward Leeds would look like a much less threatening team. Howson however would be more than comfortable to fill in and keep us an attacking threat.
Howson is a vastly experienced player that seems to have been round for an age but hasn’t even reached 30 yet. He did however divide opinion with some Leeds fans when he played for us, the only things that kept on coming up against him was the classic “he goes missing in games” & “he doesn’t get stuck in” the sort of comments you will find on the Leeds Facebook fan pages who think diving into tackles is the only way to win the ball back and that shouting and screaming makes someone a good leader.
There is a reason why Howson has played consistently under every manager he’s played under both in the Premier League and Championship. He’s a leader, admired by the majority of Norwich supporters for his time there, a lot of them probably wishing they had kept him as they are struggling to find consistent form this season.
If Howson was in this Leeds side now, you can’t help but think how Phillips and Vieira would benefit from his presence at the club. Phillips for all his endeavour and tenacity can sometimes frustrate by giving the ball away often, demonstrated against Barnsley last Saturday. It’s scary to think how far Vieira has come along in such a short space of time. After watching him struggle against Birmingham City at home last season, his strength and confidence on the ball is now extraordinary.
Being around someone who has been there and done it in this division would be prosperous for both of the young talents, you can already see the effect O’Kane has had on Kalvin’s game.
Were the rumours true that Leeds were interested? It’s hard not to think so with the ability he has and fuel was probably added to the fire after they heard he wanted a move back up north. Was it his wages that were the problem or the size of the transfer fee? Most likely. Do I think we should have made a bigger effort to sign him? Yes, it would have been worth it most definitely. At least that’s what the kid in me is saying as I replay his equalising goal against Bristol Rovers over and over in my head.
In all seriousness I do think Leeds missed a trick not bringing him home. The start of the season would suggest otherwise, but looking back over the last month or two we could have done with the boy from Morley.
Keep an eye on Jonny’s weekend articles as he joins the WALL team from now on!
By Jonny Lilley