Leeds United man reverses popular narrative as youngster creates team news issue with quadruple effort

The international break is among the most unpopular periods during the domestic football calendar, but this time around Leeds United forward Willy Gnonto has used the break to his advantage.

Italy's youngest ever goalscorer was dropped to the Under-21 side this month following a period out of the starting line-up at Elland Road but has made a strong case for a senior recall in March with his performances over two matches against San Marino and the Republic of Ireland in U21 European Championships qualifying.

The Leeds youngster scored four times across 163 minutes of football, averaging a goal roughly every 41 minutes for Gli Azzurrini. His influence was not limited to finding the back of the net, either. Italy won penalties in both games, each time courtesy of the 20-year-old forward.

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Against San Marino, Gnonto was felled in the penalty area, in addition to his two goals in Serravalle, then on a bitterly cold evening in Cork, Gnonto's shot on the stroke of half-time ricocheted up onto the outstretched arm of an Irish player. Leeds' breakout star of 2022/23 despatched of the spot-kick himself, before levelling with a header in stoppage time at the end of the second half to salvage a 2-2 draw.

While his final goal of the international window did take a hefty deflection, it does not detract from the two Man of the Match displays for Italy's youngsters.

Returning to Thorp Arch this week ahead of Friday evening's Championship fixture with Rotherham United, Gnonto will be in high spirits, having quadrupled his goal tally for the season. The winger had previously scored just once for club and country this season, in the 4-3 win over Ipswich Town back in August.

Leeds fans took to social media following Gnonto's brace against Ireland on Tuesday evening to celebrate his exploits and commend the decision to allow him regular minutes and a starring role with the U21s. He will be assessed by the club's medical staff, as is customary after a period away from Thorp Arch, to determine whether he is available for Friday's game at the New York Stadium after a brief injury scare during Italy's first November qualifier.

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While Gnonto and Wales international Dan James were both in action on Tuesday night, fellow wide players Crysencio Summerville and Jaidon Anthony have remained at Leeds where they have trained this past week under Daniel Farke's watchful eye. The German may be tempted to use his 'fresher' wide players from the start considering the internationals' quick turnaround, but Gnonto's momentum will certainly have given him food for thought at the very least.

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