Jesse Marsch’s best Leeds United XI after international break as key players return

Leeds United’s 3-2 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers at Molineux last Friday night was huge in terms of the team’s chances of survival, but it came at a price. Leeds were forced into four substitutions through injury, with Patrick Bamford, Diego Llorente, Mateusz Klich and Illan Meslier having to retire, but after the game Jesse Marsch told Sky Sports he thought all four were fine.

Bamford’s injury was reportedly a flare-up of the foot problem he was already dealing with, while Llorente and Meslier reportedly picked up strain and bruises respectively. Meanwhile, Klich was forced out due to a concussion after Robin Koch collided with him.

Leeds’ next game is on April 2, thanks to the international break, which means these four players should have plenty of time to recover. With Kalvin Phillips and Liam Cooper expected to be at full capacity at this stage, Marsch will hopefully only have Tyler Roberts, Junior Firpo and Leo Hjelde absent from his first squad.

Read more: Jesse Marsch praised for what he did in Leeds United’s win over Wolves by former referee

Los Blancos have four matches coming up next month where they can keep them safe, so Marsch will want to release his best XI as often as possible. Here’s Leeds Live’s attempt to predict what it could be:

Goalkeeper – Illan Meslier

Kristoffer Klaesson did well in his brief appearance on the pitch, making some important saves late in the game. However, Meslier is clearly number one and will return in goal immediately, assuming he is fit.

Full-backs – Luke Ayling and Stuart Dallas

One of the recurring issues under Marsch so far has been full-back exposure in the defensive zones and Ayling and Dallas have struggled in one-on-one situations. In possession of the ball, they helped drive the team forward and provided momentum and width moving forward. They will almost certainly be the pair of full-backs.

Centre-backs – Diego Llorente and Liam Cooper

Many have wondered when Pascal Struijk would be considered ahead of Liam Cooper in the pecking order at Leeds and recent weeks have suggested the time has not yet come. Struijk has performed very well since becoming a genuine first-team member last season, but he struggled a lot during the run of games that saw Marcelo Bielsa lose his job as Leeds coach.

Marsch has done a lot of the ‘leadership group’ and has had characters on the team since his arrival. This suggests that even on the basis of seniority alone, the Leeds captain will return straight into the starting XI after the international break.

Next to him, we’ve yet to see Marsch’s preferred option between Llorente and Koch as the German has often been called upon in midfield. Llorente has started twice at centre-back under the new Leeds manager, so he seems the safe choice at the moment.

Central Midfield – Kalvin Phillips & Mateusz Klich

Marsch admitted after the game that as long as Phillips was on the Wolves bench he was not going to play. However, with two weeks to go he is likely to be ready to play against Southampton from the start. It seems almost a guaranteed first choice.

Mateusz Klich could be the choice to partner him, although Adam Forshaw has been playing well. The Pole adds an option that is more confident passing forward and helps Leeds advance the ball into central areas. Considering Leeds are playing a tight formation under the American, that’s important.

Attacking Midfielders – Raphinha & Daniel James

The attacking midfielder roles in the 4-2-2-2 are more “narrow wingers” than two tens or two wide players. Raphinha and James are the likeliest options to play forward, although Jack Harrison has impressed and will surely get plenty of playing time on the bench, as well as being turned at times early on. Both of these players can also rotate up front during games, with Rodrigo taking on an attacking midfield role.

Forwards – Rodrigo & Patrick Bamford

As long as Bamford is fit enough, it seems a shoo-in to start up front. Leeds looked so much better structurally with their only real number nine in the team. Rodrigo had a terrible half under Marsch in the Aston Villa game but other than that he was one of the best players in the last games. The role of attacking midfielder or second striker suits him more naturally than the deeper forward-moving midfielder he has often played under Bielsa.

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