Pragmatism needed at Elland Road

When Thomas Christiansen made nine changes for Leeds United’s FA Cup Third Round trip to Rodney Parade on Sunday, he knew he was running the risk of an upset. The subsequent 2-1 defeat to League Two Newport County, who secured victory through substitute Shawn McCoulsky’s 89th minute winner, did two things to the Dane’s side.

Firstly, it put more pressure on them to ensure they retain a top six berth, so that events in South Wales are swiftly forgotten. Secondly, the result raised questions about the squad’s strength in depth, which will be examined even further following Samuel Saiz’s six-game suspension through a spitting incident.

It is hugely important therefore that the club does the right transfer business this January. Recruitment is an area that Director of Football Victor Orta – appointed by new chairman Andrea Radrizzani in the summer – has been criticized for, one of the few negatives from an otherwise positive six month period.

The primary influences behind this promotion push have been Pontus Jansson, Pablo Hernandez and Saiz – only the latter wasn’t at the club last season. In fact, nine of the eleven that started their last league game – a 0-0 draw at home to Nottingham Forest – played under Garry Monk.

While Orta scoured Europe for value deals that offer the potential for sell-on fees, Christiansen – with his reputation and job at stake – has felt more comfortable picking proven performers. That would suggest there may be a slight contrast in ideals between the two men and some might argue that the head coach deserves more of a say in the profile of player the club approaches.

New signing Laurens De Bock could offer some pace and width at left-back – qualities the right-footed Gaetano Berardi doesn’t quite provide there despite impeccable commitment. On the other hand, central midfielder Yosuke Ideguchi has signed from Japanese club Gamba Osaka, only to be loaned out to Cultural Leonesa of the Spanish second-tier.

Ironically, Leeds are crying out for an experienced, controlling midfielder with a degree of Championship knowhow to steady the ship short-term. Before Orta moved to bring in one of them, if he does at all, he signed a 21-year-old who will not play for the club this season, perhaps with half an eye on the Asian commercial market.

At opposite ends of the field, the West Yorkshire club have other areas to address. They require a reliable centre-back partner for Jansson and a front-man, ideally one with more physicality than Kemar Roofe but more mobility than Pierre-Michel Lasogga. Improvements in those positions are essential if the club has serious short-term promotion ambitions, yet one senses they are hedging their bets.

Not long after a period of Massimo Cellino’s trigger-happy, cut-throat ownership, it might in some ways be refreshing to have a board that aren’t looking solely at the immediate picture. The fact Radrizzani stuck by Christiansen through a run of seven defeats in nine is a clear indication that they seek steady progress, rather than instant results.

The question is though, now Leeds have their best chance of attaining top flight football since relegation in 2004, whether a more pragmatic outlook this month might be necessary. Defeat at Newport was a sign that the current group, alone, might not be good enough to deliver a return to the promised land.

By Mark Smith of leedsunitedblog.co.uk