Leeds United: Late cancellation a blow admits United boss Christiansen

Kufstein Arena, the stadium where Leeds United's first Austrian friendly should have been played yesterday.
Kufstein Arena, the stadium where Leeds United's first Austrian friendly should have been played yesterday.
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There were no surprises in the squad taken by Thomas Christiansen to Austria and no questionable absences either.

Leeds United’s head coach has all but determined which of the players he inherited are expendable. The squad around him in Jenbach says more about the signings he still needs.

Kufstein Arena

Kufstein Arena

Three senior faces missed the cut for the 25-man group who flew out of England on Friday – Giuseppe Bellusci, Lee Erwin and Toumani Diagouraga – and in leaving them out, Christiansen maintained the status quo.

Bellusci spent last season with Empoli and Erwin and Diagouraga were on loan elsewhere for much of Garry Monk’s year as head coach.

All three came back to pre-season training this summer with the hope of catching Christiansen’s eye but the Dane informed them last week that they were free to find new clubs.

With those decisions made, Christiansen’s squad largely picked itself. Conor Shaughnessy, the midfielder signed from Reading 12 months as a way of bulking of Leeds’ Under-23s squad, is knocking on the door of a bigger opportunity having made the plane ahead of young Irish centre-back Paudie O’Connor.

A minor injury accounted for Tyler Denton last week but Christiansen’s leading players were all present as United arrived at their training camp.

The presence of three goalkeepers, Felix Wiedwald, Marco Silvestri and Rob Green, suggests Christiansen is open-minded about who to rely on when the season starts.

“It was difficult to select the squad to come to Austria because we have a lot of players to choose,” the United boss said. “The club is doing a good job with signings and we need to continue with that.”

The centre of defence is where Christiansen is glaringly short of depth, demonstrated by the fact that Pontus Jansson and Liam Cooper are the only centre-backs with him in Austria. Luke Ayling has covered in that area during his year at Elland Road and operated as part of a back-three at Bristol City but he has shown himself to be a more productive right-back.

Leeds plan to sign at least two central defenders before the end of the transfer window and have been scanning the domestic market in England after recruiting heavily from abroad.

All eight of United’s summer signings are in Austria, including Samuel Saiz and Ezgjan Alioski who joined the club in the 24 hours before they flew from Manchester to Munich.

The players were put through a double training session on Saturday and followed the same routine yesterday after the late cancellation of their friendly against Ingolstadt.

While Ingolstadt scrambled to arrange a game against Mainz’s reserves, Leeds were unable to find new opposition at short notice.

The loss of the Ingolstadt fixture – a significant step up from the non-league opposition who Leeds have faced already in pre-season – was a frustration for Christiansen who saw three matches in eight days in the heat of western Austria as an ideal way to sharpen his squad for the start of the season.

United have three official friendlies remaining this summer, including a clash with Pep Clotet’s Oxford United at Elland Road on July 29, and are confident that despite Kufstein’s refusal to host the Ingolstadt match on safety grounds, their meetings with Borussia Monchengladbach and Eibar will go ahead as planned.

Yesterday’s cancellation left many of United’s supporters stranded over the weekend. Leeds have hinted at the arrangement of an open training session but are yet to confirm details.

“It really affects us because we only found out 48 hours before that the game was cancelled,” Christiansen said.

“You don’t have time to make any changes that late and I’m very sorry for the fans who are coming to support us and see the games.

“It’s not our fault that this has happened but we will try to do something for them.”

Christiansen, regardless, insisted the tour would benefit his players with the first weekend of the Championship season three weeks away. “It’s really important to come away as a team and be together,” he told LUTV.

“Having the opportunity to work in a close environment where everyone is focused on what we have to do will help us. Everyone will get to know each other better. The team bonding is very important and by coming away it gives us the opportunity to do that.

“The physical conditioning is important to build over the next 10 days and also for the players to recognise what I want as soon as possible. We have some games against good teams and that will tell us where we are.”

United had a number of minor injuries worries ahead of the trip to Austria but Hadi Sacko, Pablo Hernandez and Mateusz Klich all travelled on Friday. Hernandez and Sacko are likely to be in contention to face Borussia Monchengladbach for while Klich, who suffered what Christiansen described as a “muscle problem” in the second week of pre-season, is being put through lighter training sessions during the first few days in Jenbach.

Christiansen has three more days to draw up plans for Thursday’s friendly against Monchengladbach, who set up camp in Rottach-Egern in southern Germany over the weekend. Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool are basing themselves in the same location later in the summer.

Monchengladbach hosted and took part in the annual four-team Telekom Cup on Saturday, losing on penalties to Werder Bremen and Hoffenheim in a tournament which was won by Bayern Munich.

Belgium’s Thorgan Hazard, the brother of Chelsea midfielder Eden, could make his first appearance of the summer against Leeds after making a late return to training with Monchengladbach on the back of international duty.

United’s squad in Austria: Green, Wiedwald, Silvestri, Berardi, Ayling, Anita, Jansson, Cooper, Shaughnessy, Phillips, Vieira, Bridcutt, O’Kane, Klich, Gomes, Dallas, Roofe, Hernandez, Sacko, Saiz, Alioski, Wood, Antonsson, Ekuban, Doukara.