Leeds United’s squad strength could be key in Championship promotion race

Having spent the majority of the 2016/17 season in the Championship play-off positions, it was a huge blow for Garry Monk and his Leeds United side when a poor run of form towards the end of the campaign saw them finish seventh and agonisingly miss out on the lottery of trying to win promotion to the Premier League.

While he may not have left the Yorkshire outfit in the best of circumstances earlier in the summer – before being appointed at Middlesbrough – the 38-year-old has to be commended on the job he did with the resources he had available to him.

The Whites certainly weren’t expected to be involved in the race for the top six having finished in 13th the previous season when both Uwe Rosler and Steve Evans found themselves in the hot-seat.

However, Monk came in and quickly got the likes of Chris Wood and loanee Pontus Jansson firing, and Leeds finally looked to have a chance of returning to the Premier League for the first time since 2004.

That was until the latter stages of the campaign though, when the defence that had been so solid before started leaking goals and top goalscorer Wood was struggling to find the net at the other end.

One of Leeds’ biggest problems was probably the lack of strength in depth they had in the squad, and the tiredness in players that had played the majority of the gruelling campaign began to show.

When Andrea Radrizzani took over the ownership from Massimo Cellino and he appointed Thomas Christiansen to replace Monk, the duo would have known that they needed a stronger squad if they were to better the seventh-place finish the Yorkshire outfit achieved last season.

While Wood was outstanding as he scored 27 league goals last term, he had little competition from the likes of Marcus Antonsson and Souleymane Doukara for the centre-forward spot and knew that he would be starting every week, if he was available.

That can be a good thing sometimes, but on other occasions you also need to know that you are being pushed in order to get the best out of yourself and not letting any complacency creep into your game.

Leeds quickly set to work in the summer transfer window and with players like Charlie Taylor, Toumani Diagouraga, Giuseppe Bellusci, Marco Silvestri – and later in the window Liam Bridcutt, Rob Green and Wood – all departing, it was crucial that the Whites strengthened significantly and added quality players to their squad.

Having brought in 12 players to the first-team squad on a permanent basis, as well as three others on season-long loan deals, Christiansen has the squad that he needs to get him through the arduous season and it has shown in the early weeks of the campaign.

The Yorkshire outfit were unbeaten in their opening seven league fixtures – keeping six clean sheets – before they were beaten 1-0 by Millwall at the New Den following a disappointing display.

With an EFL Cup clash against Burnley following the clash against the Lions, it gave the perfect opportunity for some of the fringe players to stake their claim for a spot in the starting line-up, and they did exactly that by knocking the Clarets out on penalties.

Hadi Sacko, who has barely featured this term, scored during normal time at Turf Moor and it shows the strength in depth that Leeds now have that he has struggled to make the match-day 18 in the Championship.

While they have been beaten in two of their last three matches, it is something that is always going to happen to every team in this division such is the competitive nature.

Christiansen will be confident that his side can do the business throughout the rest of the campaign though and there isn’t one position in the team that doesn’t have good competition for places right now.

Up top you have Pierre-Michel Lasogga, Kemar Roofe, Jay-Roy Grot, Caleb Ekuban and Pawel Cibicki vying for the centre-forward role while Roofe, Samu Saiz, Stuart Dallas, Ezgjan Alioski, Pablo Hernandez and Hadi Sacko can all feature in the attacking midfield positions.

Behind them they have Eunan O’Kane, Kalvin Phillips, Ronaldo Vieira, Mateusz Klich, Madger Gomes and Vurnon Anita able to play in the deep-lying midfield roles.

Then Anita, Gaetano Berardi, Cameron Bortwick-Jackson, Pontus Jansson, Conor Shaughnessy, Liam Cooper, Matthew Pennington and Luke Ayling are all competing across the backline, with Felix Wiedwald vying with Andy Lonergan between the sticks.

While there will undoubtedly be ups-and-downs throughout the campaign, the strength in depth and quality and experience that Leeds United have should mean that they don’t fade towards the end of the season, and that could prove to be the key to them coming out on top in the race to win promotion to the Premier League come May.