Dan James out wide with Raphinha through the middle? What Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa said about Brazilian's position

LEFT WINGERS - Dan James, like soon-to-be-team-mate Jack Harrison, has played on both flanks but expressed a slight preference for the left side. Pic: GettyLEFT WINGERS - Dan James, like soon-to-be-team-mate Jack Harrison, has played on both flanks but expressed a slight preference for the left side. Pic: Getty
LEFT WINGERS - Dan James, like soon-to-be-team-mate Jack Harrison, has played on both flanks but expressed a slight preference for the left side. Pic: Getty
Almost as soon as it emerged that Leeds United were in talks with Manchester United over Dan James, the talk among Whites supporters was turning to Raphinha's position.

Leeds are yet to confirm the arrival of the 23-year-old Welsh international, but every indication is that he will soon finally complete the move that fell apart in the most dramatic fashion on deadline day in January 2019.

A feeling exists among the fanbase that the presence of James will see Raphinha shift into the centre, with the new boy and Jack Harrison playing out wide. As is the case with Raphinha and Harrison, James has played on either flank and through the middle, but having made his name on the left at Swansea, has found himself spending a little more time on the right under Ole Gunnar Solskjær.

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Speaking after he signed for Manchester United, James stated a slight preference for the left wing.

“I played more on the left at Swansea but up front and on the right too,” he said.

“It's important to be versatile in all three positions because you never know when you need to be called upon. We might have an injured no.9 and I might need to go to play up there, so I need to be ready to play in all three roles.

”I do enjoy coming inside from the left. I can go down the line and cross with my left, or go inside but, for now, I think it's just about sometimes scoring a few by coming inside, which means people are going to be wary of that. So it's about mixing my game up.“

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A period of adaptation is expected for every new signing at Leeds, so James is unlikely to be thrust straight into the starting line-up and, in any case, he's got a battle on his hands to remove either Harrison or Raphinha from their positions. Harrison has shown incredible improvement under Bielsa to become a nailed-on starter and the first signs of a relationship with Junior Firpo have just started to appear, while Raphinha is at present Leeds' best and most reliable chance of an attacking spark.

It's not difficult to understand why the idea of Raphinha making way by shifting into the centre would capture the imagination, at least outside Thorp Arch.

The number 10 role has not been successfully nailed down by either Rodrigo or Tyler Roberts, the former struggling with fitness and form since his £27m move from Valencia and the latter showing flashes and glimpses of his ability without consistently taking defences apart or adding the end product expected of a man tucked in behind Patrick Bamford.

Raphinha, by comparison, has been a reliable source of end product and even when playing as a right winger, drifts inside off the flank to take up positions in the centre and cause havoc, scoring goals from pockets of space just outside the area.

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When the question of his suitability for the number 10 role was posed to Bielsa in November last year, however, the head coach didn't rule it out entirely but made clear where he sees Raphinha plying his trade.

"Fundamentally he plays on either wing," said Bielsa.

"He is a player who is naturally very attacking, with ability to get in behind, with dribbling skills. They are virtues to attack and these are skills applicable out wide as well as in the centre. I won't say that I won't use him in any other position but fundamentally I see him as player to play on either wing. He has played in the centre as a striker and attacking midfield but he arrived in our team to be an alternative or option on the wing."

What the debate about a positional switch for Raphinha largely ignores is Bielsa's faith in Rodrigo and his optimism that the Spaniard can and will come good for Leeds if he can stay fit. On countless occasions he has extolled the virtues of the club's record signing and will not simply abandon a player whose work he has described as 'impeccable.'

Even last week, ahead of what was another frustrating outing for Rodrigo in the 1-1 draw at Burnley, Bielsa was explaining at length the Spanish international's importance.

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"Rodrigo is a player with all the faculties to triumph at Leeds and in English football, his football and technical resources can't be better, his physical responses are one of the best in the team, he is a very serious professional, very dedicated and very conscious," began the head coach.

"In a parallel way he has had an important influence on the team, less than what we expected and when it is about a player like Rodrigo that doesn't have aspects to correct, that is to say he trains a lot, he has high physical resources, he has technical resources above the average and he is having continuity, it's about me putting him into the team and him having a higher repercussion than he is currently having. I sincerely exempt him from any responsibility because in every game and every training session and in his private life he is impeccable.

"He is a player that leaves it all and he fights especially to triumph. He is not a player that is just happy with not having a protagonism in the team. To summarise all of that, any manager, with all this disposition and willingness that he has, would want him to try and be in the team."

Raphinha through the middle sounds fun, yet while Bielsa is a coach who sets out to bring joy to the supporters, he is not a man to abandon his beliefs in favour of frivolity and still believes in Rodrigo.

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