Over the last two summer transfer windows, Leeds United have been on a real recruitment drive for the U23s squad.
In 2020/21 they brought in Joe Gelhardt from Wigan Athletic, Arsenal’s Sam Greenwood, Crysencio Summerville from Feyenoord and Cody Drameh of Fulham. Those players helped Leeds to the title in their first season in PL2 Division 2.
This time around, Victor Orta has signed the highly-rated Lewis Bate from Chelsea as well as Birmingham City’s Amari Miller and Wigan’s Sean McGurk. He also hopes to add Celtic’s 17-year-old Leo Hjelde.
Leeds’ first-team transfer business has been fairly limited so far, with only Junior Firpo and Kristoffer Klaesson added to last season’s squad, along with the permanent addition of Jack Harrison.
Leeds United’s CEO, Angus Kinnear said on The Square Ball podcast that the club had high hopes for some U23s to play more first-team minutes this season – before naming the five players he hopes can make a breakthrough this season in his pre-match programme notes ahead of the 2-2 draw with Everton.
“We are confident that players of the potential of Crysencio Summerville, Sam Greenwood, Cody Drameh, Joe Gelhardt and Lewis Bate will have a first-team impact across the coming season and will be at the heart of the club’s medium-term success,” he said.
Although Leeds have some incredibly exciting prospects, it’s unlikely that several will breakthrough at the same time, particularly with Marcelo Bielsa trusting a very select few for the majority of the minutes available.
As such, Leeds Live has ranked Kinnear’s five U23s with the best chance of breaking through to the first-team this season.
5. Sam Greenwood
Greenwood has already made his senior debut for Leeds in the FA Cup defeat to Crawley Town in January and is clearly a player well-liked by Marcelo Bielsa. He was given minutes with the first-team in pre-season as well as featuring in the U23s fixtures.
Although he didn’t play a lot of minutes in those games, he looked physically up to the standard. The question is whether he can impose himself on games and have an influence with the ball in the way that he can in PL2, where his technical quality is above many of his opponents.
Next time he’s given a chance he will need to show confidence to take the ball and make things happen as there are other players in the U23s who will do so if he doesn’t.
It should be mentioned that perhaps without injuries elsewhere, he might not have been with the first-team in pre-season, which leads us to the next player on the list:
4. Joe Gelhardt
Although Gelhardt did not feature in the FA Cup game, he appeared on the bench in the Premier League on several occasions last season and it seems that he would have been the player taken to the first-team games in pre-season were it not for the fact that he twisted an ankle against Guiseley.
Although he missed a penalty in the U23s’ season opener at Crystal Palace, Gelhardt scored 11 goals in PL2 Division 2 and particularly stood out for his explosiveness and power. He is far more than just a goalscorer and has excellent ability to drive and dribble with the ball to create opportunities for himself and his teammates.
He also possesses an excellent work-rate which is key to being the number nine in Bielsa’s system.
Although he is highly rated, Gelhardt is competing for one of the most coveted positions in the team. Patrick Bamford is the clear first-choice and Leeds also have £27 million man Rodrigo as well as Tyler Roberts waiting in the wings. Gelhardt may get a chance in the upcoming League Cup fixture against Crewe Alexandra but he will need to impress to push himself forwards.
3. Cody Drameh
19-year-old Drameh has been impressing ever since signing for Leeds and looked particularly strong in pre-season, before putting on a star performance in Leeds’ victory at Selhurst Park on Monday night.
He stands out from many of the U23s as he already has the physique of a senior player, demonstrating this by drifting past opponents as he carries the ball and in holding off attackers as they attempt to dribble past him.
Luke Ayling is the current incumbent of the right-back slot in the first-team and had an excellent season in the Premier League last term. Leeds also have Stuart Dallas and Jamie Shackleton able to deputise in the role but Drameh looks to be the obvious natural successor to Ayling.
He stands a good chance of making some appearances from the bench this season or even starting in a cup game. If he can impress, he could be given an opportunity to start in the league in future as he looks to show that Leeds won’t need to look to the transfer market in replacing Ayling in the future – given the fact that Bielsa’s trusty right-back turns 30 this month.
2. Lewis Bate
Although Bate has only just joined Leeds, he ranks highly on this list because he is one of the most highly rated U23s players in the country. When he signed for the club, The Athletic reported that Bate is thought to be further along in his development than ex-teammate Billy Gilmour was at Bate’s age.
The Cobham-trained youngster is a midfielder most comfortable playing in a deeper position but can also play as a number eight. His ability to find space and help his side retain and progress the ball well is something that the first-team could perhaps benefit from, particularly given their lack of depth in midfield roles.
Although his talent on the ball is clear to see, he will need to show that he can compete physically at a higher level, given that he is only 5 feet 8 inches tall. Considering Kalvin Phillips’ role involves a high amount of physical exertion and a lot of duels, Bate perhaps stands his best chance of breaking into the side as a number eight, particularly if Leeds don’t end up signing a midfielder.
1. Crysencio Summerville
The Dutch winger was the standout performer in pre-season.
His displays were filled with energy, pace and direct dribbling which saw him chip in with goals and assists. He continued his fine form in the first game of the PL2 season, scoring the opener with a well placed finish after bursting behind the Palace defence.
It seems that Summerville has jumped ahead of Ian Poveda in the pecking order now, with the ex-Manchester City player missing from matchday squads at the beginning of this season.
Summerville made the bench against Manchester United in the opening Premier League game and he will hope he can at least match Poveda’s 341 Premier League minutes from last season to show he’s deserving of more opportunities to impress than his fellow winger was afforded.
Mark Jackson’s U23s take on Tottenham Hotspur at Thorp Arch today in their second game of the PL2 Division 1 campaign.