With the first game of the season only a few days away thought turn to the staring eleven that will line up against Bristol City on Sunday. How much have the pre-season games given away? Does Bielsa’s experiment with a 3-3-1-3 against Cagliari give us a sign it will be his favoured formation this season or will the 4-1-4-1 we grew used to last season make its return? With only two names brought into the first team for the coming season continuity is key, as Victor Orta has repeatedly told us thus summer. With 90% of the first team squad the same as last year the starting eleven will have a familiar feel with one or two changes. Some of the youngsters who have impressed so much in pre-season will undoubtedly make their mark this season but perhaps not in the first game.
Let’s take a look at the likely line-up for Sunday, assuming a 4-1-4-1 formation…
His future at Leeds may have seemed in doubt after the play-off second leg but Kiko Casilla has committed himself to Leeds United and seems certain to be between the sticks for the Bristol game having featured in all Leeds’ first team pre-season matches. Bailey Peacock-Farrell on the other hand is set to join Burnley. Kamil Miazek has been a worthy deputy and may provide backup to Casilla early this season.
Captain Liam Cooper is a certainty to start but with Gaetano Berardi suspended for the first game who will partner him in the centre of defence? If Bielsa goes for consistency we could see Kalvin Phillips drafted into the role but Ben White has impressed Bielsa and is expected to get the call. Barry Douglas is the obvious choice for left back but has never quite lived up to his potential, don’t be surprised if Bielsa favourite Gianni Alioski gets the nod. Leif Davis has featured heavily in pre-season but is perhaps not quite ready for the starting ekeven. Luke Ayling is still out following surgery with the favoured choice at right back in pre-season having been the dependable Stuart Dallas. Adam Foreshaw could feature if Bielsa decides to play a three at the back but the Northern Irishman seems the likely choice.
Kalvin Philips is the lynchpin of Bielsa’s side and provided he doesn’t get called back to cover in defence is a shoe in for the defensive midfield position. One of the best performers of pre-season has been Jack Harrison, signed up for his second season at Leeds, he has contributed with both goals and assists in pre-season and is likely to feature on left hand side of midfield. Mateusz Klich was one of the biggest surprises of last season, frozen out by Christianson, loaned out by Heckingbottom, he was a revelation under Bielsa. Does the dirty work and the creative stuff, weighs in with goals too, a certainty in the centre of midfield. The biggest question in midfield may be how do Costa and Hernandez fit in together. It is certain to be fluid under Bielsa as rotation and overlapping is key but I would expect Costa to start wide right and Pablo to take on the No.10 role.
Not much competition for the first game of the season with Roofe likely to miss the first few weeks of the season. Patrick Bamford will lead the attack and with fans already on his back following a goalless pre-season he will be keen to get off the mark as soon as possible.
What will Bielsa’s starting eleven be against Bristol City?