Leeds United have a group of under-23s players at the club that they have particularly high hopes for. Of course, they hope all of the young players in the development squad go on to have careers in football but the group of Joe Gelhardt, Charlie Cresswell, Cody Drameh, Sam Greenwood and Lewis Bate were the ones earmarked by the club’s hierarchy as those best placed to make an impact at Leeds United.
Since then, Leo Hjelde was added after he signed from Celtic and if his debut at West Ham in the FA Cup is anything to go by, he may well be joining that group of players. However – for now – one of the original five is moving on from the club and it could see increased opportunities for one of the others.
As has been announced, Drameh has joined the Championship’s Cardiff City on loan for the rest of the season. Whilst the right-back has made six appearances for the first team this season, he has primarily been used as a late substitute and he has pushed for a loan move where he can play more regularly, knowing that Jamie Shackleton will soon return to fitness and cut down his opportunities in the Leeds first-team.
With Drameh now gone, Lewis Bate could be set to indirectly benefit, as Stuart Dallas becomes more likely to need to be used in a full-back position, rather than in midfield.
In the second half of last season, Dallas became one of Marcelo Bielsa‘s first-choice options in midfield but this season the 30-year-old has only started in midfield four times as he has been required to cover both Junior Firpo at left-back and Luke Ayling at right-back. With one of the other backup options at right-back going on loan, it’s very hard to see the amount of time Dallas is needed at full-back decreasing.
When it comes to Bate, although he moved from Chelsea specifically seeking a pathway to first-team football, the young midfielder has needed to be patient. It took several months before he was included in a first-team squad, with Bielsa seeming to prefer the option of Jack Jenkins on the bench, despite many believing Bate to be the better prospect.
However, when the opportunity came to give a young player a start in the FA Cup, it appeared that England U20 international had jumped ahead of Jenkins, as Bate started the game, completing 45 minutes at the London Stadium.
Whilst he was substituted at half-time, it was a positive senior debut from the former Chelsea man. He was up against quality opposition in Thomas Soucek and Declan Rice and he acquitted himself well. He was constantly on the move, demanded the ball and used it well when he had it.
There is a chance that he will be needed to play again this weekend, as Junior Firpo may be unavailable due to the head injury which forced him off the field in the cup tie. This could mean that Dallas moves to left-back and with Adam Forshaw the only option able to play in the defensive midfield role as Robin Koch will be playing right centre-back in the absence of the suspended Diego Llorente, the number eight position could be filled by Bate once again.
Should that not be the case, it still seems likely that Bate will gain minutes from the bench from now on. Sunday’s debut showed that he has gained some trust from Bielsa which didn’t appear to be present before.
Of course, it is well known that Victor Orta is seeking a midfield addition in this window but it appears that either an attacking midfielder or somebody to cover defensive midfield are more likely.
Should this be the case, Bate looks set to be the best bet to deputise for Adam Forshaw as a number eight when his legs need saving, even more so with Dallas’s opportunities to provide that rest for Forshaw now limited.