Sam Allardyce reckons Leeds United’s squad “lacks experience”. Well, that won’t matter *if* this XI lines up in the Championship next season.
The West Yorkshire outfit’s long-awaited return to the Premier League has crashed to an end, largely as a consequence of some dire decisions at board level.
Leeds will have to get their managerial appointment spot on to boost their hopes of securing an immediate return to the top flight and getting rid of Allardyce is a decent start.
The club’s supporters may be down in the dumps following relegation, but the calibre of this youthful XI indicates that the good vibes could return to Elland Road pretty swiftly…
GK: Illan Meslier
The France U21 international suffered a severe crisis of confidence in 2022/23 and Allardyce replaced him with his old Everton pal – Joel Robles – for Leeds’ final four games.
Meslier was a shadow of his best self during the 2022/23 campaign but he was previously a shining light at Elland Road, which has coincided with sporadic reports linking him with Man Utd and Chelsea. Still only 23, the ‘keeper has plenty of time to get his career back on track and prove why he has been tipped for a move to the Big Six.
RB: Cody Drameh
In a sensible alternative world, Drameh would already be a mainstay for Leeds United. Premier League newcomers Luton Town benefited from the Yorkshire side’s mismanagement of the defender, who impressed during his loan spell for the play-off winners.
Transfer nerd Fabrizio Romano reckons Luton (and others) are pursuing a permanent deal for the athletic wing-back and it would be a major misstep for Leeds if Drameh ends up making his mark elsewhere.
He is good enough to justify them phasing out Luke Ayling and Rasmus Kristensen in favour of a younger upgrade at right-back.
CB: Charlie Cresswell
The imposing 20-year-old would have been a valuable option for Leeds during their fight to avoid the drop in 22/23, especially when you consider how poor they were without him in defence.
He instead spent the season at Millwall and his performances earned rave reviews. Not just because he scored a brace of headers in a debut win over Stoke City, though this match-winning performance admittedly made for superb viewing.
The Championship is about as demanding a league as you can get and his season at the Den sets him up to play a major role at Elland Road next season.
CB: Liam Cooper
While Allardyce would covet a squad of players in their prime or beyond, I’ve gone completely the other way.
But I’m not an animal; even I must concede that this radical XI could do with a sprinkle of experience somewhere. Cooper’s frailties were exposed in the Premier League, but the 31-year-old will still be able to cut it in the Championship and he is here to ensure his younger teammates toe the line.
LB: Leo Hjelde
Around £1m was paid to sign Hjelde from Celtic in 2021 and while the 19-year-old has only made a handful of appearances for Leeds, he was lauded as he helped Rotherham United to retain their Championship status.
The versatile defender – who is equally as capable of playing at centre-back and wing-back – is fearless and he can be relied upon defensively more than most players his age.
Leeds are not exactly blessed with options at left-back and their supporters will no doubt be glad to hear that the pretty hopeless Junior Firpo appears likely to move on. As the ex-Barcelona man’s successor, expect Hjelde to be one of the Championship’s breakout stars next season.
CM: Darko Gyabi
While Southampton snatched Gavin Bazunu, Juan Larios, Romeo Lavia and Samuel Edozie from Man City, £5m-rated Gyabi joined Leeds as part of the Kalvin Phillips deal.
The defensive midfielder’s performances at youth level for club and country have got Leeds United supporters chomping at the bit to see Gyabi make a splash in senior football and he will likely get plenty of chances to prove what he is capable of next season.
CM: Lewis Bate
While Leeds United have invested poorly in their senior squad (I’m looking at you, Georginio Rutter), they have done some astute business at youth level and another £1m+ was used to buy Bate from Chelsea.
The midfielder is far more likely to get chances at Leeds than as part of the Todd Boehly circus at Stamford Bridge, so this 2021 move was wise from his perspective.
The 20-year-old benefitted from a loan spell at League One strugglers Oxford United in 2022/23 and from next season, he could form a potentially long-term midfield partnership with Gyabi.
RW: Crysencio Summerville
The 22/23 season was dreadful for all involved at Leeds United, but Summerville is perhaps alone in being able to hold his head high heading into their return to the Championship.
The Dutch starlet provided six goal involvements in the Premier League – a stat boosted by his run of netting in four straight matches towards the end of 2022 – and he was deserving of more game time.
Leeds will do well to keep hold of the 21-year-old this summer but his freakish pace would give Championship defenders nightmares and he would be a major asset in the second tier.
AM: Sam Greenwood
Like Summerville, ex-Arsenal academy product Greenwood showed flashes of promise during Leeds United’s relegation season. He delivered a potentially star-making moment with his stunning goal in his side’s 4-3 win over AFC Bournemouth in November.
That was as good as it got for Greenwood as he was only used sparingly in the final few months of the campaign but he is certainly capable of lighting up the Championship.
LW: Sonny Perkins
The former West Ham player gave the Leeds faithful a hint of his potential with a goal in the FA Cup against Cardiff City in January and he has scored at an impressive rate (12 goals in 22 appearances) for their U21 side.
The 19-year-old will be especially useful next season due to his ability to play up front or on either flank, but the make-up of this XI sees him slot in nicely on the left wing.
ST: Joe Gelhardt
The final cog of this bloody exciting front four is Gelhardt, who is already adored at Leeds after his moments of magic against Norwich and Brighton during the 2021/22 campaign.
The 22/23 season was expected to be Gelhardt’s time to shine at Elland Road, but it did not pan out like that for the attacker, who spent a few months on loan at Sunderland.
The 21-year-old was given the tough task of replacing Ross Stewart in the short term and his six-goal involvements in 20 outings was a steady return. I’m a massive fan of Leeds United’s Wayne Rooney-esque forward and next season will be the time for him to step up and make the centre-forward spot his own.