Saturday, November 26, 2022

Leeds United Boss Places Trust in Struggling Forward: Is He Good Enough To Lead The Line Next Season?

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Pratyay Maitra
A sports enthusiast in his mid-twenties who reads, breathes, as well as dreams (mostly) about football and attempts to share his views with the fanatics by jotting it down. Prefers to learn through extensive interaction, communication and exploration. So don't be in a quandary and SHOOT.

Leeds United were up and running for a direct promotion earlier this season after narrowly missing out a playoff spot last year under Garry Monk. Monk declined to stretch an impressive managerial spell at Elland Road but his successor Thomas Christiansen was doing everything right until a barren spell of outings which saw Leeds drowning rapidly and the management was forced to part ways with Christiansen who failed to meet the demands. The fans saw their long-pending Premier League return shattered and the new boss Paul Heckingbottom was left with no objectives in the ongoing campaign.

Leeds, currently occupying a midtable spot, had a mixed set of results in their recent fixtures and Heckingbottom is now working on combinations to prepare for the next season. The former Barnsley boss earned massive applauds for his managerial masterclass with the Tykes who despite being league minnows, delivered some lion-hearted performances in the Championship. He, however, is experimenting with his attacking options and rotating every individual to prove their worth prior to the next campaign. Caleb Ekuban, the summer signing from Chievo Verona, is having a tough time in new surroundings but the gaffer has kept his trust on the youngster despite his shockingly missed opportunity during a midweek defeat versus Fulham.

“Caleb is a bright, bubbly character and we want to keep that because he is infectious and he rubs off on the other players. The players love him, the work he does on the pitch, how he is around the training ground and so you feel for him.”

The striker had an impressive debut for the Whites during a League Cup tie versus Port Vale where he notched one and assisted Samuel Saiz to complete his hat-trick. But a significant injury blow hindered his progress and the 24-year-old failed to impress since returning to full fitness. Although he finally scored his first league goal against Bolton Wanderers last Friday, his poor miss caused the Cottagers staging a counter-attack and doubling the lead against the run of play. 

Ekuban is supposed to step up and claim a regular spot in Leeds’ first-team following hitman Chris Wood’s egress for Burnley. Pierre-Michel Lasogga was loaned in from Hamburger SV for the entire season but does not have a long-term future at Elland Road after failing to leave up to the expectations. Ekuban does not have a high-profile CV and only featured in lower leagues of Italian football before scoring 17 league goals for little-known Albanian outfit Partizani Tirana last season. But the manager is backing his youngster and wants to prepare him for the next campaign. The forward has failed to create an impact in limited opportunities but likely to have a future at Championship beyond this season.

Heckingbottom, nevertheless, needs to strengthen his squad significantly in summer to chase for a promotion as they lack serious dearth, particularly in the ‘number 9’ slot. It is to be seen now how Andrea Radrizzani backs the new boss financially, but the gaffer seems to have started working with the tools he already got and helping the underperforming star to shake off the shambles and grab his opportunities to secure a place in his future plans.

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