With the 2016-17 season underway, with one game played in both The Championship and the EFL Cup, Leeds United are yet to claim a victory – without penalties, at any rate. The 3-0 defeat at QPR last Sunday was one to forget, and Leeds fans are hoping that it can be written off as an opening-day blip. The eventual progression against Fleetwood Town on penalties in the EFL Cup, however, has more reasons to be positive, especially in the form of new signing Pablo Hernandez.
Whilst needing penalties to knock out a lower league side isn’t often viewed as a reason to be cheerful, the way Leeds dominated the match and kept going to grab a last minute equaliser and keep the tie alive was. Leeds teams in previous seasons would’ve crumbled under the pressure, failed to find the equaliser required, and crashed out; this time round, with Hernandez orchestrating proceedings, the Elland Road outfit controlled the match and patiently mounted attack after attack until another new signing, Swedish striker Marcus Antonsson, rifled home to draw the Yorkshire side level.
The introduction of Antonsson and Alex Mowatt from the bench helped Leeds to take charge of the match, and both are pushing for places in the starting XI against Birmingham City at the weekend. The issue Garry Monk faces is how to fit them both into the side; Hernandez ran the show for 120 minutes despite missing preseason, so is expected to be one of the first names on the team sheet. Striker Chris Wood converted the penalty won by Antonsson in extra time, and is likely to keep his place, as Leeds looked more effective with the Swede playing up front alongside him and forming a two-man striking partnership.
Perhaps Monk will opt for a 4-4-2 formation, with Hernandez operating from wide and Alex Mowatt sitting in central midfield. If so, this poses the question as to whether 17 year old Ronaldo Vieira keeps his place, or if the more experienced Toumani Diagouraga returns. And who will operate from the other flank? Will Kemar Roofe continue from wide, or will Stuart Dallas or Hadi Sacko take up the role?
Rob Green somewhat atoned for his error for QPR’s opening goal at the weekend by making a brilliant penalty save to win the shootout, so seeing him drop out of the side is unlikely. Sol Bamba is likely to return to partner Kyle Bartley at centre back after replacing Liam Cooper, who missed preseason through injury, at half time. Lewie Coyle impressed again at right back, so could well retain his place; however, new signing Luke Ayling from Bristol City could push him for a starting spot.
The bigger issue Monk has is working out how to make the most of the attacking talent at his disposal, and how to shoehorn them all into the side for Saturday’s match. Given his influence over the match at Fleetwood, Hernandez should start, and the attack should be built around him.