Leeds United Midfield: Opportunities to Upgrade?

Leeds United midfield

Leeds United have had a great season as a newly-promoted side. With only a few games left, talk now turns to their prospects for next year and how they can improve. We’ve already looked at the left-back position. Next on the list: the Leeds United midfield. Are there opportunities to upgrade?

Leeds United Midfield in Review

This Season

Before we look at the possible opportunities to upgrade, how did the Whites’ midfield perform this season?

Kalvin Philips, as in England’s Kalvin Philips, has been excellent. So much so that without him Leeds never seem to find their rhythm. They struggle to control the game if he is not their anchor. So, cover for this position could be a need for the club, despite Robin Koch’s encouraging performances in the position in recent weeks.

Further up the field, there are a few more questions. Stuart Dallas, Mr. Flexible himself, has been phenomenal and is surely in the running for Player of the Season. But, his flexibility is as much his weakness as it is his strength. A victim of his own utility-man heroism, Dallas can be used in multiple roles and often is, meaning securing one particular spot can be tough.

Good Players? Yes. Opportunities to Upgrade? Yes.

Then you have Mateusz Klich, Tyler Roberts, Adam Forshaw (yes, he is still a Leeds player), and Jamie Shackleton. Klich has been Leeds’ most reliable midfielder for the past few seasons, but that long run of consecutive games seems to have taken its toll recently.

Roberts has deputised for the inured Rodrigo in the ‘number ten’ role admirably, but is his lack of goals a worry going forward?

Shackleton is very talented but needs game time so may be primed for a loan next season, and Forshaw? Who knows what he will look like when he finally returns to the field.

All of these are good, solid players. But is there the chance to move forward and improve? Most certainly. Let’s look at the Leeds United midfield opportunities to upgrade this summer:

Rodrigo De Paul – Udinese

Rodrigo De Paul was heavily linked with a move to Elland Road last summer and has had an incredible season for Udinese in Serie A. But have Leeds missed the boat on this one? On his podcast, Phil Hay of The Athletic seems to think they never even bought a ticket: “The more I’ve heard about it, the more it sounds as if Rodrigo De Paul was pushed Leeds’ way by somebody rather than Leeds actively going and asking the question about him.”

De Paul would fit perfectly in the all-action Whites midfield. Combining his high work ethic and skill set, his goals and leadership would be invaluable. Last season, if the links were true, there may have been a chance. The chance to work with Marcelo Bielsa and move to the Premier League would have been too good to turn down. But now, he is a leading man in Italy. He is in every Serie A Team of the Season you can find. Victor Orta, the Leeds United Director of Football, would have to pull every trick he had from his magic hat.

He has done it before with Raphinha and Diego Llorente etc. But those deals were done in the background with very little attention. Rodrigo De Paul is now a wanted man around Europe and this makes it a very different battle for Leeds to try and win.

Teun Koopmeiners – AZ Alkmaar

The question of covering Kalvin Philips whenever he is injured or suspended has been one of the biggest posed by the Elland Road faithful this season. Who could Leeds sign to take his place when they are needed?

Would Teun Koopmeiners be happy to be on the bench? No. Would he be happy to be Phillips’ cover man? No. Would he be good enough to upgrade the Leeds United midfield, provide leadership qualities and slide into the defensive midfield whenever necessary? Most certainly, according to Phil Hay with The Athletic.

The AZ Alkmaar captain is still only 23-years-old and recently gained his first national team cap for the Netherlands. Certainly more attack-minded than Philips, Koopmeiners has demonstrated his diverse set of skills on many occasions. Box-to-box, defensive midfield, and even centre-back are not beyond his abilities. But make no mistake, there is considerable goal-scoring capability to go along with this defensive flexibility. At the time of writing, 15 goals this season for AZ is very impressive.

Much like De Paul, attention from across Europe will be considerable. If the £14.5 million price tag is to be believed, it won’t just be Leeds and Liverpool in the race for the upcoming midfield star.

Nahitan Nandez – Cagliari

The Yorkshire Post have been the latest to link Leeds United with Cagliari’s leading man. Nahitan Nandez is an all-action Uruguayan midfielder who has the physical attributes to thrive in Bielsa’s system. Despite his team’s poor form and relegation dogfight this season, Nandez has been in fine form.

With a release clause reportedly close to the £30 million mark, he won’t come cheap. But at the age of 25, there is still a lot of time to develop his game under El Loco’s stewardship. Tomasso Giulini, Cagliari’s owner, is reported to be close to Andrea Radrizanni, the Leeds United owner. Maybe this could help swing this deal in the Whites’ favour?

Ainsley Maitland-Niles – Arsenal (West Brom on Loan)

On the domestic front, a name that has been mentioned is that of Arsenal utility man Ainsley Maitland-Niles. Recently linked with a move to Elland Road, he has been one of the bright lights for a West Bromwich Albion side that has been relegated this season. Maitland-Niles demonstrated his flexibility whilst on loan at the club, but his passion lies in playing as a midfielder.

As with Stuart Dallas, this adaptability can often be to the detriment of his ability to play in his preferred role. However, the ability to play multiple roles adds to the interest in him as a valuable squad player.

Would Maitland-Niles demand a starting spot in the Leeds midfield? Not at the moment, but that’s not to say that it couldn’t happen in the future under the watchful eye of the Argentinian coach.

In House Upgrade Opportunities?

Do Leeds United have midfield opportunities to upgrade within the U23s squad?

There is a plethora of midfield talent at Leeds. The general consensus, however, is that the young talent at Elland Road need match experience before they can be expected to take the next step up.

The likes of Jamie Shackleton, Alfie McCalmont, Robbie Gotts, and even the young Polish talent Mateusz Bogusz have all gained the attention of the Leeds masses. But they all need more minutes and sitting on the bench at Elland Road won’t help them. In fact, the loan spells of Gotts and McCalmont this year have been very fruitful, which is probably why Bielsa wants Bogusz to be loaned to a British club next season.

Orta’s Crystal Ball

To look into Victor Orta’s crystal ball would allow us the insight to see what plans lie ahead for Leeds United this summer. While speculation is fun and fills the column inches, it rarely hits the mark. Leeds will be busy again this summer, let’s enjoy the ride and see which new talent can try their hand at the Premier League next.

 

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