Jesse Marsch’s selection questions as Leeds United prepare for pre-season return

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Leeds United haven’t returned for pre-season training just yet but Jesse Marsch will be excited to get to work once more at Thorp Arch. The American took charge of Leeds’ last three months of the season and managed to guide the club to safety, but this summer will be first time he sees his side on the training field without the pressure of a relegation battle.

As such, he may well be working off a clean slate this summer as he looks to hammer home his philosophy and shape his squad into one that could make progress next season. He’ll also hope to have a few selection headaches as the season opener against Wolverhampton Wanderers begins to loom on the horizon.

Here’s a look at some of the intriguing battles for positions within the Whites’ squad.

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Centre-back

When Liam Cooper is fit, more often than not, he plays the full 90 minutes and the skipper’s performances at the back end of last season underlined just how important he is to Marsch’s side. Supporters can expect Cooper to be a key man once more next season, but there is a degree of uncertainty about who plays alongside him, particularly in a back four.

Diego Llorente played most of the campaign in the centre-back role and while he did impress on occasion, his performances were inconsistent, meaning his spot in the side is up for debate. Robin Koch has been in and out of the side since arriving from Freiburg a couple of years back and while he is most comfortable at centre-back, he was asked to play as a midfielder or a right-back with regularity last year.

Llorente and Koch are undoubtedly considered to be the most senior options to partner Cooper at the back and there could be room for all three should Marsch switch to three at the back. However, Pascal Struijk will also be hoping to secure regular game time this season, particularly after finishing last season on the high of scoring a crucial goal against Brighton and Hove Albion.

He’s still only 22 and needs to continue playing in order to continue his development and the same can be said for 19-year-old Charlie Cresswell, who is more than ready for first-team action. The England under-21 international made five Premier League appearances last season and he’ll be doing all his can to pick up senior minutes, either at Elland Road or away on loan.

Centre midfield

A first-choice midfield is hard to select at the moment, especially while there is so much uncertainty surrounding the future of Kalvin Phillips. Phillips is being heavily linked with a move to Man City at present and if he was to leave, Leeds would be forced to step into the transfer market in order to find a replacement.

That’s not to say Marsch doesn’t have options, though, especially with the arrival of Marc Roca from Bayern Munich last week. Roca was highly thought of in Germany despite struggling for game time and he has been tipped to be a success in Leeds white this season.

He not only adds quality to Leeds’ midfield, but he bolsters the depth, too. Adam Forshaw is another who will be eyeing a regular spot in the middle of the park after making the spot his own last year before injury.

Mateusz Klich missed just a handful of games last season and he’ll be keen to catch the eye of Marsch, while Sam Greenwood got his foot in the door with an impressive performance in the middle on the final day of the season at the Brentford Community Stadium.

Greenwood will be keen to build on that display over pre-season and move himself up the pecking order. Leeds also have Lewis Bate at their disposal in the middle and Marsch showed no hesitation in looking to him when Leeds played Chelsea in May.

Wing

Like the situation with Phillips, if Raphinha stays he will play a key role in Yorkshire moving forward. The Brazilian was Leeds’ best player by far last season and while there is reported strong interest from the likes of Barcelona, Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea, Leeds would be reluctant to see him leave.

Dan James and Jack Harrison were involved regularly last season and although James was amongst those who struggled to impress last year, the Wales international will be keen to kick on and secure his spot in this autumn’s World Cup squad. Harrison, on the other hand, may still be on a high after scoring that goal at Brentford.

Scratch a little deeper, though, and Leeds possess a number of players who will be pushing hard to force their way into Marsch’s plans. Tyler Roberts has struggled for form in the top flight but he can play out wide, while United look set to welcome both Helder Costa and Ian Poveda back into their ranks after loan spells at Valencia and Blackburn Rovers respectively.

Crysencio Summerville will be returning to Thorp Arch in a determined mood, it seems, as he goes in search of first-team action to continue his development. Summerville only made six league appearances last year, but Marsch is fan of his and he could find himself rising up the pecking order with a strong showing in pre-season.

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