Leeds United kick off their Premier League season on Saturday with a lunchtime trip to Old Trafford to face their bitter rivals Manchester United.
The opening weekend’s most anticipated fixture will see Leeds play in a Premier League game in a full stadium for the first time since 2004, with the 3,000 away tickets selling out almost instantly.
Marcelo Bielsa’s men will be hoping for something a lot more like the famous game of January 3rd, 2010 than the 6-2 loss the side endured last season.
During the close season Leeds have added only Junior Firpo to their first-team ranks thus far, whilst Manchester United have finally completed the signing of the long-coveted Jadon Sancho. They will also complete the signing of Raphael Varane will also complete his signing in the next few days.
It’s always challenging to predict first elevens for the opening fixture but with fitness questions around all of these new signings who will certainly be key players for their sides, it’s perhaps more so.
Here is a look at how the two sides could turn out on Saturday lunchtime:
Goalkeeper: Illan Meslier
A nice easy one to start. Kristoffer Klaesson has arrived from Valerenga to back up the Frenchman and provide competition but Meslier is the clear number one and deservedly so.
Full Backs: Luke Ayling & Junior Firpo
A good portion of the Leeds eleven is going to depend on whether Marcelo Bielsa deems Kalvin Phillips to be fit to start after his summer exploits with England, subsequent holiday and shortened pre-season at Thorp Arch.
If Phillips is starting in defensive midfield, Ayling is a cert for his usual position of right back. IF Robin Koch is required to move forwards to cover Phillips – as he has done for most of pre-season – then expect Ayling to go to centre back.
Junior Firpo starting may be wishful thinking as we don’t know if he will be ready for the fixture yet, given that he missed the final two friendlies. However, as he is the clear first-choice for the position, if he is passed fit to play, he would be expected to start. Of course, he might not last the full game but Stuart Dallas would likely shift to cover him and is the clear option to start there should the new signing not be fit.
Centre Backs: Robin Koch & Liam Cooper
As above, Koch could be required to move but although he is a capable deputy in midfield he is clearly best as a centre back and this seems most likely to be where he would start the opener.
The left side of the defence is where Bielsa has a decision to make which is more about preference than fitness. Liam Cooper came into the pre-season fixtures slowly as he was perhaps carrying a knock but he looks back to fitness after completing 90 minutes against Villareal. He is also club captain, of course. However, Struijk played every game and had already established himself as somebody pushing hard to take the position off Cooper in 20/21. In this case, Bielsa may prefer the leadership of Cooper in such a big game but it wouldn’t be surprising if he did choose Struijk. It seems likely that he will become the first-choice at some point during the season.
How should Leeds line up this weekend? Let us know in the comments
We want your views, Leeds fans. You can become even more involved with our Leeds Live Whites coverage by signing up to unlock a host of features, such as discussing the comments and taking part in special Q&AS where you can speak directly to reporters about the latest at Elland Road.
Defensive Midfield: Kalvin Phillips
As above, there is a question about Phillips because he returned to pre-season late. However, this will be a big week for him and he will want to put right what happened at Old Trafford last season, where he was substituted at half-time as Manchester United killed the game within the opening period. He’ll be desperate to start and we think he will.
Central Midfield: Stuart Dallas & Mateusz Klich
Should Dallas not be required to fill in at left-back, it seems obvious that he’d start in the position he played the second half of 20/21, where he impressed so much that he won every award going at the club’s end of season ceremony.
Mateusz Klich was one of Leeds’ top performers in pre-season and looks refreshed and back to his best. This midfield seems to have the balance which will be required at Old Trafford. The partnership of Klich and Rodrigo did not work well at all in the 6-2 loss last season as Scott McTominay rampaged through the middle to score a brace within the first three minutes.
If Dallas is required elsewhere, a decision will need to be made between Tyler Roberts and Rodrigo.
Wings: Raphinha & Jack Harrison
These two are the clear first choices in their positions and they will give the Manchester United full-backs something to worry about all game as both featured in the list of top chance creators in the league last season. We could see the two wingers swap sides as Harrison’s added defensive work-rate could help shut down the threat of Shaw, with Raphinha going one-one-one up against Wan-Bissaka.
Centre Forward: Patrick Bamford
Again, no surprise here. Bamford missed the opening friendly but has played every game since and looked on decent form, scoring twice. His pressing and link-up play is so important to the way Leeds play. He missed a decent chance early in the game last time around which could have brought his side back into the game so he would love to get a goal at Old Trafford and etch himself into Leeds folklore even further than he has done in the last couple of seasons.
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
Dean Henderson seemed to have edged out De Gea as number one by the end of last season but he has been absent with COVID which may see the Spaniard get the nod.
Full Backs: Luke Shaw & Aaron Wan-Bissaka
This is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s favoured pairing. Shaw only just arrived back in training after starring for England in the Euros but he featured in their most recent friendly and it’s hard to imagine him not playing against Leeds. His attacking threat on the left may be required to help push Raphinha back, if the Brazillian plays on the right for Leeds.
Although Keiran Trippier has been linked and Wan-Bissaka is limited going forwards, he’s still the first-choice option at right back as things stand.
Get all the latest Leeds United breaking news, transfer rumours, injury updates and analysis of what’s next for Marcelo Bielsa’s side.
Our newsletter will drop into your email inbox twice a day and it’s absolutely FREE!
Centre Backs: Victor Lindelof & Harry Maguire
Harry Maguire is an obvious choice here. He is Captain of the side, their best defender and a threat from set pieces. He is also an excellent progressor of the ball and Leeds’ pressing will need to be on point to stop him carrying the ball out and overloading midfield.
Although Varane is being signed to become his defensive partner, it would be a huge risk for Solskjaer to pick the Frenchman for this game given that Leeds are not a team you want to face when you aren’t feeling sharp. At time of writing he hasn’t completed his transfer and is running out of time to train with his teammates.
Defensive Midfield: Fred & Scott McTominay
Solskjaer used his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation against Leeds in both games last season, with McTominay bursting forwards from deep a key factor in the first game.
However, he has worked on a 4-3-3 system over the summer and articles have been published in several places regarding his plans to switch things up for this season. Nemanja Matic has started in the role of the single defensive midfielder on a couple of occasions in pre-season so he could possibly be used there but this would be a risk against Leeds given his lack of mobility.
It would be surprising to see Solskjaer try this formation against Leeds, knowing the threat that Leeds could pose and the success the 4-2-3-1 had at Old Trafford last time. He may recognise the Elland Road fixture saw his side struggle to create as they did before but the 4-2-3-1 with Fred & McTominay seems most likely.
Attacking Midfield: Bruno Fernandes
Fernandes played a vital role against Leeds in the Old Trafford game, moving Phillips all over the pitch and creating gaps for McTominay to run into as well as scoring a goal himself. At Elland Road he was far more peripheral and Phillips largely shut him down but he will surely start. He’s the most dangerous player Manchester United have.
Wings: Anthony Martial & Daniel James
As Jadon Sancho is only joining up with his new teammates this week, this game might come too soon for him to start, although he’s likely to make a debut from the bench.
Paul Pogba didn’t start either game against Leeds last season, perhaps because he isn’t trusted to do the defensive work required against The Whites. When he did come on, he was brought on as a left-winger so if he starts it seems more likely to be there than midfield, despite his exploits for France in the Euros.
Martial and James both played very well in the Old Trafford fixture last season so will likely get the nod here.
Centre Forward: Mason Greenwood
While Edinson Cavani’s presence improved the Red Devils greatly last season, the forward is yet to return to training and is subsequently an unlikely starter against Bielsa’s men. That could open the door for Greenwood to feature, with him and Martial potentially alternating between the number nine position and a place on the wing.
Do you want an exclusive pre-season Leeds United preview – both in your inbox and through your letterbox?