The Whites’ trip to Bournemouth could prove to be Leeds’ final fixture against a relegation rival this season, meaning United must take maximum points or face an uphill struggle to remain in the Premier League.
In recent weeks, supporters have been left perplexed by head coach Javi Gracia’s reluctance to field breakout talent Willy Gnonto, despite the Italy international’s ability to change games, as demonstrated throughout the 2022/23 campaign.
During Leeds’ most recent outing, the 1-1 draw with Leicester City in which they surrendered a one-goal lead with ten minutes to play, Gnonto was left to spectate on the touchline, an unused substitute, despite repeated chants from those inside Elland Road imploring the head coach to bring on the diminutive livewire.
Gnonto has featured nominally as a left-sided attacker this season and with injury to Sinisterra on Tuesday night, it is unlikely the Colombian will make the matchday squad this weekend. Still, it is probable Gracia selects Summerville ahead of Gnonto in his starting XI versus Bournemouth.
That said, if Gnonto is once more consigned to the substitutes’ bench for the duration, in what could prove to be another pivotal fixture in the Whites’ season, the wave of questions from reporters and supporters will come again, particularly considering Gracia’s reduced number of suited left-sided attackers at the Vitality Stadium.
There is, however, an alternative solution. Brenden Aaronson’s recent form at No. 10 has left supporters disaffected by his repeated selection. Consequently the American was dropped to the bench for Tuesday’s draw with the Foxes and is unlikely to be recalled to the starting XI, replaced instead by Rodrigo Moreno in support of centre-forward Patrick Bamford.
But, what Gracia could do instead, or what he may be forced to do if either Bamford or Rodrigo are incapable of starting, is to field Gnonto in the No. 10 position. A major gripe within the fanbase has been Aaronson’s perceived weakness in possession, too easily bundled off the ball by opponents in the final third, thwarting Leeds’ attacking moves.
Gnonto has demonstrated he is capable of protecting the ball, weaving through challenges and has linked up well with Leeds’ attacking options when driving through the middle. Even if he is not selected in this role from the start, it is something to try given how insipid United have been in recent games.
Gracia must change something at Bournemouth. The obvious choice would be a Gnonto recall, in one of several functions. Doubtless, Leeds fans making their longest away trip of the season will hardly care if he is deployed on the left or through the middle – they simply want to see a player who inspires hope that all is not lost in their bid to stay in the top flight.
The Italian’s selection would ease pressure on Gracia, too, reducing the volume of dissenting voices and relegation disquiet. Above all, extending Gnonto’s exclusion runs the risk of defining Gracia’s tenure as Leeds boss, as the key issue of contention overshadowing his other more pragmatic and well-supported decisions.