Leeds United transfers - André Onana, Fredrik André Bjørkan, Óliver Torres, Sardar Azmoun and Santos Borré suggested for Whites summer deals

When it comes to the next hit of transfer excitement Leeds United are working on a strategy of delayed gratification.

By Graham Smyth
Wednesday, 13th January 2021, 10:22 am
SUGGESTED SIGNING - Rafael Santos Borré of River Plate could fill a Leeds United vacancy according to data experts smarterscout. Pic: Getty
SUGGESTED SIGNING - Rafael Santos Borré of River Plate could fill a Leeds United vacancy according to data experts smarterscout. Pic: Getty

Marcelo Bielsa’s contentment and Victor Orta’s dislike for the January market and its narrow field of options mean this month will be a quiet one for the Whites.

There just aren’t that many players who can be obtained for value and currently carry sufficient fitness to play Bielsaball before the season is all but done.

Work does need to be carried out on this squad, with targets lined up for three positions already – a left-back, central midfielder and striker seem highly likely – but it can and will wait until the summer.

With that in mind, and the rumbling debate over Kiko Casilla’s suitability, a debate that sparked to life once again after his performance against Crawley Town, we tasked football analytics experts smarterscout with finding players for four vacancies.

First up, a goalkeeper to cover first choice Illan Meslier – one with passing skill and Premier League quality shot-stopping.

Dan Altman is the founder of smarterscout, a platform that allows players to be profiled by style and suitability for leagues around the world, based on data-led skill levels.

He has a pair of candidates.

SHOT MAP - Santos Borré's shots from open play. Pic: smarterscout

“Two goalkeepers at very different points in their careers might have the right profile for Bielsa,” he told the YEP.

“André Onana is a fantastic young keeper who’s ready to take the next step after some big successes at Ajax. He would be expensive and a real competitor for Meslier as No. 1.

“Then there’s Nahuel Guzmán, who’s won everything with Tigres – so he’ll qualify for a work permit under the FA’s new rules – and also had a brief spell with Argentina.

“At 34, he might be willing to split time more evenly with Meslier for a chance to play in the Premier League under his compatriot. His contract ends in June, so he’d also be much cheaper.

“Both goalkeepers have excellent shot-stopping numbers adjusted to a Premier League standard, and both can play the ball out of their area with a broader range than Meslier.”

At left-back, Bielsa is more than happy to play winger-turned-right-back Stuart Dallas or left-winger-turned-left-back Gjanni Alioski. Injuries have forced him to move Dallas to the right and Alioski’s performances at left-back have been mixed, defensively speaking.

Ideally, the Whites would bolser their options with a natural left-back who could stifle top flight attackers and also get forward to create.

“We can go to Mexico again for a good option,” said Altman.

“Yairo Moreno, who’s out of contract this summer at León, played six matches in midfield for Colombia in 2019 – enough to qualify for a work permit – but he’s excelled at left-back in Liga MX.

“Moreno isn’t a great tackler at a Premier League standard, but he’s extremely secure on the ball and puts in a lot of effort as a defender.

“Much the same can be said about Fredrik Bjørkan, a stalwart for Norway’s Under 21 squad and in the Bodø/Glimt side that took the Eliteserien by storm last year. He’s also been flagged by our young prospects algorithm, which identifies players with the profile to star at a higher level.”

Mateusz Klich’s iron-man status is yet to fail Bielsa – the Polish international continues to be available if and when needed and he has taken well to the Premier League, creating chances at an impressive rate.

Behind him is Jamie Shackleton, a player of real potential, but Adam Forshaw’s continued absence makes it an area in need of strengthening.

Anyone coming in needs to be able to run all day, producing key passes on the ball and pressure off it, getting involved all over the pitch.

“This is the hardest position to fill, and a lot of the players who came up were solid Europeans who are now ineligible for work permits,” said Altman.

“But Óliver Torres is only being used on and off at Sevilla, and might fit the bill. He’s plenty capable of playing the full 90’, taking the ball off the opposition, and generating chances. Coming from a top club in La Liga, a work permit becomes a much easier proposition.”

So to the business end of the pitch, where Patrick Bamford is performing in a way few can say they anticipated.

Yet with Rodrigo filling a number 10 role and Tyler Roberts struggling to make an impact, there is room for another – certainly if Leeds want to become an established Premier League operator.

Altman has three ideas to complete the recruitment.

“If Victor Orta is ready to get out his chequebook, then Zenit’s Sardar Azmoun would offer good competition for Bamford,” he said.

“The Iranian international has a turn of pace and takes shots from good positions, but like Bamford he finishes better with his head than with his feet.

“Santos Borré, the Colombian striker at River Plate, is a better finisher and works hard off the ball, plus his contract is up the summer.

“For more of a lottery ticket, Bayern Munich’s 19-year-old Dutch youth international striker Joshua Zirkzee is apparently looking to leave, and a suspension in the Bundesliga means that he may have to go abroad.”