Illan Meslier could prove Leeds United's top-flight snip
ONLY six members of Leeds United’s promotion winning squad have experience of English football’s top flight.
Positionally, that experience is spread throughout the pitch.
Ninety two top flight experiences in centre midfield through Adam Forshaw and playmaker Pablo Hernandez.
Twenty eight upfront through Patrick Bamford and the one of Tyler Roberts, 25 five out wide via Helder Costa, two in defence through skipper Liam Cooper.
In goal is the only exception.
Yet Whites head coach Marcelo Bielsa must now decide whether to place his faith in 20-year-old Frenchman Illan Meslier, turn back to Kiko Casilla or splash the cash on a new recruit.
Thirty seven miles down the road, United’s Yorkshire neighbours Sheffield United are set to splash out in a big way on a new goalkeeper with the Blades having a bid of £18.5m accepted for 22-year-old Bournemouth shot stopper Aaron Ramsdale.
Manchester United loanee Dean Henderson has excelled in the last two seasons between the sticks at Bramall Lane yet has now returned to Old Trafford.
Back up the road at Leeds, the goalkeeping position is one which United have had their fair share of troubles with.
Determined to put an end to those troubles, Leeds made big headlines in January 2019 when signing triple Champions League winning goalkeeper Casilla on a free transfer from Real Madrid with the Spaniard joining on a four-and-a-half year deal.
Casilla was brought in at a time when Bailey Peacock-Farrell was first choice and the Spaniard soon assumed preference between the sticks with Peacock-Farrell then moving to Burnley in the summer.
Casilla’s first full season at Leeds then began strongly as the Spaniard recorded four clean sheets in United’s first eight league games.
The bid for a fifth was then ended when Macauley Bonne struck in the 32nd minute of September’s 1-0 loss at Charlton Athletic though the contest would become far more significant and have lasting effects many months on.
Five months later, Casilla was found guilty of racially abusing striker Jonathan Leko in the clash at The Valley with the Spaniard handed an eight-game ban, fined £60,000 and ordered to attend face-to-face education.
Casilla always strongly denied the claims with the Spaniard saying he was devastated by the FA’s verdict which once again raised more questions about the United goalkeeping position.
As it was, Casilla’s game was becoming susceptible to costly errors which had already led to suggestions that young Frenchman Meslier who had been recruited on loan from FC Lorient the previous summer should start.
With Casilla beginning his eight-game ban, Meslier was then finally handed his Whites league debut as United travelled to Hull City at the end of February for a contest that ended in a 4-0 victory.
Meslier arrived at Leeds with a glowing reputation and now was the time to live up to that billing. Eight games later, the Frenchman had kept five clean sheets.
And perhaps the biggest indicator into Bielsa’s thinking for next season came when Casilla returned from suspension for United’s clash at Barnsley but only to the bench as Meslier stayed in net.
Bielsa was naturally asked about the decision and provided an understanble response.
“The continiuty of Illan in the team made the difference to think that it wasn’t convenient to modify something of this topic,” explained Bielsa.
With promotion ultimately then secured through the 1-0 victory against Barnsley, Casilla then returned straight into the starting line up for United’s penultimate game of the season in the 3-1 win at Derby County for which Bielsa made seven changes.
Yet Bielsa then said he would pick his strongest available side to honour the competition in United’s season finale at home to Charlton Athletic which was always going to speak volumes.
Meslier found himself back in goal with Kamil Miazek this time on the bench and Casilla missing.
Yet another shut out as part of a 4-0 victory left Meslier with seven clean sheets from ten league games and four in succession.
The following day, United made Meslier’s move from Lorient permanent as the goalkeeper joined the Whites on a three-year deal for £5m.
Down the road, Sheffield United have since found that the cost of finding a Premier League first choice keeper is £18.5m.
Leeds might just have found theirs for a fraction of that price as while Casilla remains a clear and live option, it would be hard to begrudge Meslier starting as first choice given his stellar end to United’s promotion winning campaign.
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Thank you Laura Collins