Phillips call and Firpo’s injury risk – Three problems Leeds United must solve before Man Utd – Beren Cross

Finally Leeds United are into the final week of their preparations for the first match of the 2021/22 Premier League season at Manchester United.

At Saturday lunchtime, Marcelo Bielsa will lead the Whites out at Old Trafford for the start of their second season since promotion.

After a run of difficult results on paper through pre-season, United will be keen to avenge what happened the last time they visited Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s outfit.

Crucially, the visitors will be well backed by thousands of Leeds fans on this occasion, but if they are to get the result they want, Bielsa will need to solve a few issues before kick-off.

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The talisman’s condition

The biggest call Bielsa will have to make this week is on the condition of England hero Kalvin Phillips.

Barring any actual injuries, the 25-year-old is sure to tell the head coach he is ready and raring to go despite starting pre-season more than three weeks late.

We know Bielsa has a more scientific view than that. The Argentine will assess Phillips’s data in training this week, take a close look at him in Murderball and then take a view at the back end of the week.

After limiting Phillips to 90 minutes across the matches in Amsterdam and York last week, not even starting the latter, there is evidently some caution from Bielsa.

As he so often says, he does not want to play players when their bodies are not in a condition to do themselves justice, especially somewhere like Old Trafford.

However, history has shown us if anyone in the Leeds squad can play, and play very well, very quickly after a lay-off, it’s Phillips.

The defence

Much rests on the injuries to Diego Llorente and Junior Firpo when it comes to the back four Bielsa goes with in Manchester.

Llorente hobbled off at Loughborough University during the match with Real Betis, while Firpo was missing from the line-ups against Ajax and Villarreal.

Each of the problems the players are suffering with have been described as minor knocks and the hope is their absence in York was precautionary.

Bielsa will have to take a look at the pair this week and take a view on whether playing would risk exacerbating their issues or whether they have missed too much of the summer preparation.

If they miss out, with Firpo especially, there will be knock-on effects in the rest of the team.

While Pascal Struijk or Robin Koch can comfortably play alongside Liam Cooper, Stuart Dallas would have to fill in at left-back, thus removing him from central midfield.

Stuart Dallas would play at left-back in Junior Firpo’s place

Boiling down Man Utd’s XI

With pre-season friendlies and the heaviest of the fitness work done, all attention this week will be on Solskajer’s side specifically.

Once the fixtures were announced, Bielsa would have commissioned the dossier of analysis on the Red Devils put together by his backroom team.

The analysis is in place, the trends have been spotted, the strengths and weaknesses identified, but this week is about the fine-tuning, the final five per cent they can take from the hosts’ Everton friendly at the weekend.

With such a large squad at Old Trafford, several new faces and a vast amount of players at summer tournaments it can be difficult to decipher who exactly will make the XI on Saturday at 11.30am.

Raphael Varane, Jadon Sancho and Edinson Cavani all have question marks hanging over them after restricted pre-seasons under Solskjaer.

Meanwhile, the likes of Paul Pogba and Donny van de Beek are still jostling for a start against the Whites too.

Solskjaer’s even toyed with the idea of moving from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-3. Leeds are a versatile bunch and will know what formation to move into, whichever way the home side goes.

It’s Bielsa’s job to map out exactly which way, and with whom, is most likely.

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