Leeds United likely to swiftly add to their 'magnificent seven'

LEEDS United look set to have seven players representing the Whites at this summer’s Euros.

Thursday, 27th May 2021, 7:08 am

Liam Cooper, Gjanni Alioski, Mateusz Klich, Robin Koch, Diego Llorente, Kalvin Phillips and, almost certainly, Tyler Roberts.

That’s some going for a club that was still in the second tier of English football this time last year.

Yet there are arguments to suggest that Leeds could and should have had even more players stepping out on the big stage of the delayed Euro 2020.

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NEXT ONE? Leeds United centre-back Pascal Struijk looks sure to secure senior international honours at some point whether that be for Belgium or the Netherlands. Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images.

Luke Ayling, Patrick Bamford and Jack Harrison can all count themselves unfortunate not to be in Gareth Southgate’s England squad whilst record signing Rodrigo was somehow overlooked by Spain boss Luis Enrique.

The Whites could have had a whole team of players heading for the Euros but, with the likes of Illan Meslier and Pascal Struijk thriving, even more internationals will follow, especially given the talent within the club’s under-23s.

As things stand, five Whites players are assured of their places at this summer’s delayed Euros having been named in final squads.

Klich became the first Leeds player to seal his spot when selected by Poland and captain Cooper followed suit for Scotland. Koch was next for Germany, followed by Alioski for North Macedonia but then came a sudden jolt as Enrique named his Spain squad which included Whites centre-back Llorente but not record signing Rodrigo.

The 30-year-old forward has 25 caps to his name and ended the Premier League season being shortlisted for the May player-of-the-month award but was still overlooked for the Euros.

Enrique tends to field a front three but opted for RB Leipzig’s Dani Olmo, Real Sociedad’s Mikel Oyarzabal, Juventus star Alvaro Morata, Villareal’s Gerard Moreno, Manchester City’s Ferran Torres, Wolves flyer Adama Traore and Paris Saint-Germain’s Pablo Sarabia as his attacking options.

But it’s hard not to think that Rodrigo should have been included and it’s the same situation multiplied by three when looking at Southgate’s provisional 33-man England squad.

Phillips always looked likely to be included having quickly amassed seven caps but his Euros dreams looked in jeopardy as the midfielder injured his shoulder in the last minute of Sunday’s season finale against West Brom.

Leeds then issued a positive update the following day and Phillips was included in Southgate’s extended squad, unveiled on Tuesday afternoon.

Yet, despite the extra number of spots, there were still no places for three stand-out English players from United’s season in Bamford, Harrison and Ayling.

Bamford’s omission took the headlines and it’s hard to understand why the Premier League’s second-highest scoring Englishman from the 2020-21 campaign has been overlooked.

Three Lions captain Harry Kane is the only English striker to have out-scored Bamford this season yet Southgate has opted to select Everton’s Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Aston Villa’s Ollie Watkins and Manchester United’s Mason Greenwood instead.

At least one of those will likely drop out when Southgate whittles down the numbers to a final 26 next Tuesday but Bamford could hardly have done more to advertise his claims in netting 17 goals in addition to seven assists.

Calvert-Lewin bagged 16 but offered no assists whereas Watkins scored 14 and set up five. Greenwood scored seven and offered two assists but is still only 19 years old.

There is more to selection than just the stats but Bamford can feel hard done by and it’s not far fetched to suggest that Leeds could have had four players in the Three Lions squad given their outstanding campaigns.

Ayling finished the season as the division’s top tackler but finds himself behind Manchester City’s Kyle Walker, Atletico Madrid’s Kieran Trippier, Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold and Chelsea’s Reece James in the right-back pecking order and it’s a similar story for Harrison regarding the wing spots.

Southgate is likely to field two players either side of a lone striker and has Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford, City’s Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden, Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish, Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho and Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka as his named attacking options in addition to the out-and-out strikers selected.

He could play a No 10 too.

Harrison faced an almighty task trying to jump in with that bunch but might have been preferred to the promise of 19-year-old Saka who clearly has a huge future.

But Harrison remains fresh faced himself at 24 years old and should be looking at a first senior call soon in addition to 27-year-old Bamford who also has the option to switch allegiances to Ireland should he so desire.

If 29-year-old Ayling’s international ship has sailed which it hopefully hasn't then either Bamford, Harrison, Meslier, Struijk or Raphinha look like being United’s next senior internationals although Meslier has yet to even play for France’s under-21s despite having kept 11 clean sheets upon his first season in the Premier League.

The 21-year-old Whites stopper has been stuck behind Nantes ’keeper Alban Lafont but should get his first chance in Monday’s Under-21s Euros quarter-final against the Netherlands for which Lafont is absent owing to the Ligue 1 relegation play-off with Nantes.

Struijk, also 21, is yet to make a senior international appearance and can represent the Netherlands or Belgium who have already courted his services though the centre-back is seemingly holding out for a Dutch call.

Raphinha, meanwhile, faces one of the toughest tasks of all in being selected for a Brazil squad whose attacking options are led by PSG galactico Neymar.

Liverpool’s Firmino, Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus, Everton’s Richarlison, Flamengo’s Gabriel Barbosa, Benfica’s Everton Soares and Real Madrid’s Vinicius Junior are also in the latest squad.

But Raphinha must be knocking firmly on the door after finishing the Premier League season joint-sixth in the assists charts.

Raphinha set up nine goals in addition to netting three himself and the Whites winger still has time on his side at 24 years of age.

As far as the Euros are concerned, Stuart Dallas would have given Leeds another representative had Northern Ireland qualified - and possibly Alfie McCalmont for the Green and White Army too.

Instead, Roberts is expected to bring up the Whites septet heading for the tournament when Rob Page names his Wales squad this weekend.

Longer term, United’s under-23s is also stacked with youth internationals who will be aiming for future major international tournaments.

The list is extensive but headed by young Three Lions trio Sam Greenwood, Joe Gelhardt and Charlie Cresswell with England’s under-19s and Cody Drameh with England’s under-20s.

Niall Huggins is also involved with Wales’ under-21s whilst the rapidly-progressing Crysencio Summerville has already been capped by Netherlands under-19s.

As it stands, there are seven players heading to the Euros but there could have been more and, either way, expect many more to follow at the Qatar World Cup 2022 and beyond.

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Thank you Laura Collins