What is needed for Leeds United 'supermarket sweep' summer transfer window and what is not

It’s quicker to list what Leeds United don’t need in the summer transfer window, than the alternative.

By Graham Smyth
Thursday, 26th May 2022, 4:40 am

Centre-backs, if you’re asking, are probably the one and only thing that Jesse Marsch and Victor Orta need not worry about, with Liam Cooper, Robin Koch, Pascal Struijk, Charlie Cresswell, Diego Llorente and Leo Hjelde all on board.

Whether the six will be present and correct come the start of next season is, of course, another matter.

Cooper again proved his importance to Leeds in the crucial final weeks of the season and, as club captain, is going nowhere. Koch will likely hanker after a return to his most natural position, after doing a job in midfield and at right-back, and deserves a run of games there.

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Struijk didn’t have the best season - who at Leeds did? - but, at 22, retains enormous potential and now has a relative wealth of top-flight experience to call upon.

Both Cresswell and Hjelde are prospects who could have big futures, if they get game time, either with Leeds - which is difficult to see at present without someone moving aside - or on loan.

As for Llorente, this week’s call up for Spain suggests he is still a valuable asset but, at 28, that value is going to diminish quickly and this last campaign was an uncomfortable one for him so, of all the centre-backs at the club, he would appear the likeliest candidate for a move, should Leeds decide that six men for two positions is a luxury they don’t need. Marsch, however, has made consistent use of Llorente and this is a club looking to deepen, not weaken the ranks in the coming weeks.

Besides that, it calls for a supermarket sweep of a summer, with something from each aisle - although the trolley will, hopefully, be filled with carefully-selected, high-value items.

BIG SUMMER - Jesse Marsch needs players who can fit his system and greater squad depth as Leeds United work on a rebuild. Pic: Getty

Starting from the back, Leeds could eliminate a risk they have been running by signing experienced cover for Illan Meslier. That felt important in January amid Kristoffer Klaesson’s difficult first season with the Under-23s and Leeds made some effort in that direction before Marcelo Bielsa reaffirmed his contentment with the Norwegian. Klaesson looked more at home in his Premier League cameo against Wolves than he did in Premier League 2 action and Marsch made a concerted effort to make him, and every other player, feel like they were needed, but picking Meslier is still a no-brainer. He needs to be kept and kept happy, as one of the club’s prize assets and, at the same time, kept on his toes.

Full-back was an area of some concern even at times during Bielsa’s best days at Leeds, left-back in particular and Junior Firpo still has a long road ahead to prove himself as the upgrade on Gjanni Alioski the club proclaimed him to be last summer, although it must be said that Alioski got better in the position over time and Firpo could too.

Right-back has also become a problem, however. Stuart Dallas is out for such a considerable length of time that he cannot be considered an option for next season and Luke Ayling could be out for four months, leaving exciting prospect Cody Drameh - if he and the club decide he's staying after wanderlust helped him experience senior football with Cardiff - Jamie Shackleton or Koch as the club’s options. Shackleton hasn’t been fit enough to play anywhere near enough football and, when he has been, he still hasn’t played the minutes he needs.A loan might have suited him this season; it definitely would next season.

So both sides of the back-four could do with some strengthening, especially when you consider that the Under-23s just went a full season without what you would call a natural full-back capable of making the step up to the first team. Leeds have liked Aberdeen's Calvin Ramsay for some time and are hoping that he can better see a pathway to the Premier League at Elland Road than he can at Anfield, because Liverpool like him too.

Enough has been written about the need for a central midfielder to last a lifetime, which is how long it feels since Leeds signed one, and even the retention of Kalvin Phillips - which would prompt the biggest celebration of the summer - would not be enough.

If he were to go, two midfield arrivals would be called for. Adam Forshaw and Mateusz Klich are good players for a box-to-box role and will be important next season but the absence of Phillips has almost always cost Leeds.

Raphinha will go, if Barcelona ever stop making noise and make an actual offer worthy of Leeds’ consideration, and the addition of Brenden Aaronson, which has passed the likely stage and crept into the inevitable, barring any Michael Cuisance-style dramas, could partly mitigate the Brazilian’s loss. Aaronson fits the bill for the attacking midfield role in a narrow system, a role that did not bring the very best out of Raphinha.

Jack Harrison, whose 10-goal return marked him out as a player very much worth persevering with even after a frustrating campaign and losses of form, Daniel James and Crysencio Summerville give Leeds the option to introduce width and pace.

It will be up to Marsch to ensure they can contribute just as much while tucked inside but, even with Rodrigo - if he stays after two seasons of toil and struggle - and even with Sam Greenwood and Joe Gelhardt able to drop deeper than centre-forward and requiring more minutes than they had this season to continue their development, would another quality number 10 be an insurance against some of the creative issues encountered this season?

Gelhardt has shown himself capable of making things happen and, as a second striker, could play off Patrick Bamford in order to face the goal and do his best work running at defences, but another striker is a must. Whether that’s a fox in the box, like the going-for-free but potentially-staying-put-at-Arsenal Eddie Nketiah, or someone with a similar physical presence and link-up ability to Bamford, Leeds need more up top. Marsch has Tyler Roberts in the wings again after hamstring surgery and he is another who might have benefitted from a Championship loan this season, had Marcelo Bielsa not considered him so vital to the squad. Like Shackleton, it could stand the Welsh international in good stead to drop down, play lots of football and discover form, goals and fun again.

Aside from all of this, there is an Under 23s squad to bolster and head of emerging talent Craig Dean will be working on his wish list.

Leeds will require new staff members, too. Marsch was happy to come in with a small team and rely on the expertise he found at the club once Bielsa’s iron circle moved on, but there will be movement on that front in the summer including a new Under-23s head coach, as Andrew Taylor likely resumes his work as loans manager.

And there will be contract talks aplenty. Phillips is the big one, once the picture clears on his representation and as long as Manchester City don’t put an offer on the table that neither the player nor his boyhood club can walk away from, which they are yet to do, but Ayling, Greenwood and Summerville are entering the final years of their current deals. Tying Gelhardt, Harrison and Struijk down to longer contracts than those due to run out in 2024 will be good business, too.

There is a lot to do and 72 days in which to do it.

Andrea Radrizzani struck the right tone with his post-season statement, vowing to strive for actual success next season by improving the squad. By staying up they have given themselves an opportunity to rebuild and give Marsch not only the kind of players his system requires, but the kind of depth that stops injuries from completely derailing a season. The American is undoubtedly keen to allow the club to do that, with much less desire to run a small squad than his predecessor.

The amount and the quality of the business Leeds do this summer will set the tone for just how successful the 2022/23 campaign could be.