One of the big, nay massive, improvements that Leeds United have demonstrated this season is, after a rocky start, is a solid defensive unit. The back four at Elland Road have been consistent, cohesive and controlled.
Since the arrival of the seemingly talismanic Pontus Jansson, Leeds had had a stronger defence and a much better set of performances. Since the 1-0 loss to Huddersfield in their sixth game of the season, Jansson’s first appearance for the Whites, Leeds have gone of a rampage of sorts with 41 points from 19 games and nine clean sheets.
Nine clean sheets, that’s not testament to one man though, it is the combination of a solid core of five at the back with Jansson gelling well with Kyle Bartley and with strength at the edges being provided by Charlie Taylor and Luke Ayling – all four giving that welcome reassurance to veteran keeper Rob Green.
All have played their part in getting Leeds to where they are now, all of them. Rather than be all solitary and moments of genius from individuals, it seems like Leeds United defenders are like the Borg from Star Trek – Next Generation in that they have this common consciousness that they plug into.
However, come Derby County on Friday and the Borg could very well be broken, or at least fractured with the very high probability that Leeds could be missing two of their central defenders for the visit of Derby County. The Rams are picking up a head of steam at the moment under Steve McLaren and will arrive in West Yorkshire and Elland Road with their heads held high.
Leeds already know one player who definitely won’t feature on Firday and that is Pontus Jansson who picked up his tenth yellow of the season in the 2-1 FA Cup Third Round win over Cambridge United. Another doubt is his starting central defensive partner from Monday night in Liam Cooper, who hobbled off injured with what has been termed an ‘impact injury’, although Garry Monk is hopeful
In essence, that leaves just Kyle Bartley as the only bona fide, tried and tested centre-back in the first team squad. Whichever way Leeds fans look at it, it’s a simple choice between rejig or promote from below for the Whites in order to put out their strongest back four to try and contend with a very strong attacking side in Derby County.
Rejig the line-up and you have the possibility of Luke Ayling coming infield to partner Kyle Bartley in the centre of defence with likely Lewie Coyle coming in at right-back to replace him. On the other side of the back four is likely to be Gaetano Berardi, swapped from his more accustomed right-back position over to left-back, where he has deputised for the injured Charlie Taylor.
Promoting from below, bringing one of the U23-Academy centre-backs in for one game, likely to be high-octane, against a very good attacking side in Derby County is feasible. The question that remains is whether it is advisable though. Will Garry Monk, who has Leeds United in the play-off places, risk bringing in and blooding a youngster for such an important game? Probably not.
Whichever way you look at it, Derby have fallen lucky on this one in that they face Leeds United without having to face Pontus Jansson who, in reality, is up there amongst the top centre-backs in the Sky Bet Championship.