Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa spoke passionately and at length about the situation involving right-winger Raphinha ahead of this weekend’s game with Liverpool.
The Brazilian could yet be prohibited from featuring in the match at Elland Road if FIFA are forced to uphold a five-day ban, at the request of the Brazilian footballing federation (CBF).
CBF have made a complaint against five Premier League clubs over not releasing their Brazilian players for this month’s international break.
With club football set to resume, FIFA have been urged to provide clarity on whether the likes of Raphinha and Liverpool trio Alisson, Fabinho and Roberto Firmino will be eligible.
It is expected Illan Meslier will retain his place in the starting XI, despite a minor blip during the international break with France’s U-21s. Given the goalkeeper’s natural resolve, his error versus the Faroe Islands will already be behind him, as he prepares for the visit of Jurgen Klopp’s men.
Bielsa confirmed in his press conference on Friday that Stuart Dallas, Junior Firpo and Mateusz Klich would be available for selection this weekend.
Firpo and Klich had missed the trip to Burnley a fortnight ago having tested positive for COVID-19.
Meanwhile, Stuart Dallas withdrew from the Northern Ireland squad last week due to personal reasons.
Concerns over that trio were allayed with Bielsa’s admission, meaning it is likely all three will return to the starting XI.
Dallas and Klich could slot into central midfield together, while Junior could make his second league start for the club at left-back.
Behind the returning duo will be Kalvin Phillips who came through England’s FIFA World Cup qualifying fixtures unscathed.
In central defence, Pascal Struijk may be the unfortunate casualty as has often been the case when Bielsa reverts to a back four.
Liam Cooper and Diego Llorente have tended to be the Argentine’s preferred pairing at centre-back; two weeks ago at Turf Moor being the exception when three central defenders were required to do battle with Burnley’s two centre-forwards.
Luke Ayling, an ever-present at right-back last season, is highly likely to retain his place.
Despite Daniel James’ deadline day arrival, Jack Harrison’s posting on the left wing seems somewhat secure given that the Welshman has barely stepped foot in the door.
Nevertheless, Bielsa did hint at some involvement for the new wide-man in his pre-match press conference: “He [James] will be available this weekend – he’s a player who can play on either side that combines his ability to unbalance the opponent.”
Raphinha’s selection will be the most contentious issue prior to kick-off at Elland Road on Sunday. His eligibility – or ineligibility – may be confirmed by FIFA before teams arrive, but given Paraguayan international Miguel Almiron’s availability, and reports that Wolves will be able to field Mexico’s Raul Jimenez, it appears the tide is turning on the CBF.
That said, if Bielsa is to flout CBF’s objections, the club must form a united front with other affected Premier League teams who also hope to field their Brazilian players.
Should that be the case, Raphinha will continue as one of the first names on the teamsheet.
And finally up front, newly-capped England international Patrick Bamford will be fresh after just 60 minutes of action against Andorra for the Three Lions.
He will be raring to get back to goalscoring form after a strikeout versus the UEFA minnows, which followed a late equaliser at Turf Moor in front of his parents.
Predicted Leeds United XI: Meslier, Ayling, Llorente, Cooper (C), Junior; Phillips, Dallas, Klich; Harrison, Raphinha, Bamford
Pick your starting XI below: