Leeds United’s pre-season takes them overseas on Wednesday evening when Marcelo Bielsa’s side take on Ajax in Amsterdam.
The Dutch champions should provide Leeds with the toughest test of their summer so far at the Johan Cruyff Arena, as the Whites step up their preparations for the Premier League opener at Old Trafford in a week-and-a-half’s time.
So far in pre-season Leed have split their squads between first-team and under-23s sides and this looks set to continue with Mark Jackson’s side due to play Ajax’s under-21s in the afternoon.
Leeds head over to the Netherlands with a number of injury concerns at the back, after Diego Llorente and Pascal Struijk both limped out against Real Betis on Saturday. Another centre-back option in Charlie Cresswell is another doubt after he received a kick in the head during Friday’s friendly at Fleetwood.
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So how should Leeds line up at the Johan Cryuff Arena? Our LeedsLive reporters have drawn up their preferred XIs here…
It’s tricky making a team selection when you don’t know who’s fit and who isn’t.
Assuming Liam Cooper is available, I would start him in what I see as the club’s strongest current XI.
The new Premier League season is rapidly approaching and I would like to see the final two friendlies used as dry runs for the opener at Manchester United.
Kalvin Phillips has had a touch over three weeks since the Euro 2020 final, so would start in Amsterdam for me, even if for only one half.
The team picks itself. The only new face is Junior Firpo and there’s the ready-made slot for him at left-back.
If there is any hint of doubt about Pascal Struijk or Diego Llorente for the season opener, then getting Robin Koch and Cooper together again is imperative in the centre too.
Beren’s XI: Meslier; Ayling, Koch, Cooper, Firpo; Phillips; Raphinha, Dallas, Rodrigo, Harrison; Bamford.#
Following defeat to Real Betis last weekend, Leeds look to bounce back against equally prestigious opposition in the form of Dutch champions AFC Ajax. While these friendly matches are primarily focused upon getting minutes into the legs of various Leeds players after a two-month break from club action, they will also serve as a barometer for how the team has progressed under Marcelo Bielsa, now going toe-to-toe with regular participants in European competition.
Saturday’s 3-2 defeat was a disappointment but hardly a devastating blow to Leeds’ preparations for the new campaign. Illan Meslier was at fault for Betis’ third goal but even with the addition of Kristoffer Klaesson, it is unlikely the Frenchman will make way for the fixture in Amsterdam.
Defence is perhaps where Leeds may find themselves plugging gaps, given that Diego Llorente and Pascal Struijk were both withdrawn from action with knocks over the weekend. Seeing as the opening game of the campaign is a mere ten days away, it would not make sense for Bielsa to risk aggravating a minor knock for either player in an inconsequential friendly. For that reason, Luke Ayling is likely to continue in central defence, while there is hope Liam Cooper can play his first minutes of pre-season.
That will mean Jamie Shackleton will likely continue at right-back, where he has impressed so far this summer, while Junior Firpo continues to get acquainted with the left flank alongside Jack Harrison. Rodrigo and Stuart Dallas complement each other well in the middle and more than make up for the yards lost by not starting the tireless Mateusz Klich.
Elsewhere, the front three almost picks itself these days, with Raphinha playing 90 minutes against Betis, Harrison getting a 65-minute run-out and Bamford scoring in a first half stint. It is likely to be full strength from the start once again for Bielsa’s attacking trio.
Joe D’s XI: Meslier, Shackleton, Ayling, Cooper, Junior; Koch, Dallas, Rodrigo, Raphinha, Harrison; Bamford
There will be just ten days left until the Old Trafford curtain-raiser when Leeds take on four-time European champions Ajax, so you’d think it’s time for Leeds to be putting out their strongest XI.
The first place to check when the team-sheet drops will be who plays centre-back after we saw Diego Llorente and Pascal Struijk limp off against Betis on Saturday. Obviously, if there’s any doubt on those two, they shouldn’t be risked.
The lack of Liam Cooper so far has been notable, but until we hear otherwise, we have to assume he’s fit and will be available this week. He can go alongside Robin Koch, with the first-choice full-back pairing of Luke Ayling and Junior Firpo getting another start.
Kalvin Phillips will have a fair few days of Thorp Arch running in his legs now, so you’d imagine he’ll get at least 45 minutes over in Amsterdam.
Ahead of him, Leeds’ strongest line-up looks like the one that finished the last campaign, with Dallas again in the midfield and Rodrigo playing behind Bamford.
Joe M’s XI: Meslier; Ayling, Koch, Cooper, Firpo; Phillips; Raphinha, Dallas, Rodrigo, Harrison; Bamford
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