Leeds United’s preparations for the 2021/22 Premier League season step up a gear next week with friendlies against Guiseley, Blackburn Rovers, Fleetwood Town and Real Betis.
Although it is not always wise to read too much into pre-season friendlies, they can often provide indicators as to what a manager is planning for the upcoming campaign.
With four games scheduled in the space of five days, Marcelo Bielsa will have the opportunity to explore his resources and tinker with his team.
Here are six things to keep an eye out for in the early exhibitions:
Junior Firpo debut
Seeing a marquee signing in action is always exciting and Leeds supporters will be keen to see Junior Firpo pull on a Leeds shirt.
The 24-year-old arrived for a reported fee of £12.8m, filling a vacancy at left-back following the departure of Ezgjan Alioski.
Firpo has not been away on international duty this summer having only represented Spain at under-21 level and is likely to be involved in some of the friendlies next week.
New under-23 recruits
Youth recruitment is a key area of focus for Leeds under the current regime and the club have secured the signatures of some incredibly exciting prospects already this summer.
The most high-profile young recruit is Lewis Bate, who joined from Premier League rivals Chelsea having been capped by England at youth level.
Amari Miller was added to the ranks from Birmingham City and Leeds also swooped for Wigan Athletic playmaker Sean McGurk.
Friendlies provide the perfect opportunity for managers to integrate young players ready for a promotion into the first-team fold whilst assessing those on the brink of a breakthrough. Given the busy schedule which sees four games in five days, expect plenty of under-23s players to get a runout, with supporters keen for a glimpse into the future.
What are you most looking forward to this pre-season? Let us know in the comments below
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For a club who were still in the Championship as recently as 2020, it was a proud moment to see seven players called up to represent their nations at Euro 2020.
Although Ezgjan Alioski has since moved on and Kalvin Phillips is unlikely to feature, it would not be surprising to see Robin Koch, Diego Llorente, Liam Cooper, Mateusz Klich and Tyler Roberts play a part next week at some point.
Three of those players in particular will be returning to club football with a point to prove and it will be intriguing to see if they can hit the ground running. Koch and Llorente have already proven their ability but have struggled to stay fit and will be desperate to show Bielsa they are in perfect shape for the upcoming season. Roberts finished last season with a flourish but was limited to just one cameo appearance at Euro 2020 and will be hoping to develop into an indispensable figure for both club and country.
Kalvin Phillips replacement
One player who is unlikely to feature in any of the friendlies next week is Kalvin Phillips. The 25-year-old was scintillating as England embarked on a run to the final of Euro 2020 but the amount of football he played will have taken a toll and he is still enjoying a rest.
The so-called ‘Phillips role’ is at the heart of how Bielsa’s Leeds operate and whilst the England international rests, a replacement will have to step up to the plate.
Koch has previously deputised for Phillips, as has Pascal Struijk, but Bielsa may opt to pluck a holding midfielder from the under-23s or perhaps even call upon a certain forgotten man…
Despite the remarkable upwards trajectory of Leeds United over the last two years, it has been tough for Adam Forshaw.
A combative yet composed midfielder with a lot to offer when fit, he has not featured for the Whites since 2019 due to a lengthy injury battle.
However, after a return with the under-23s at the end of last season, the 29-year-old has been back in training after overcoming a setback and may be called upon in the friendlies next week, possibly to deputise for Phillips.
After ending last season in a rich vein of form, Rodrigo will be desperate to become a regular fixture in the starting eleven for the 2021/22 campaign.
The Spaniard commanded a hefty fee last summer but saw his debut season disrupted by a positive Covid-19 test and injury.
It will be interesting to see how Bielsa opts to use the 30-year-old in pre-season, as many of his appearances last season came in an advanced midfield role.
It is likely that he will be used in that role again but with little competition for Patrick Bamford existing, he may be used as a forward.
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