If Leeds United are going to have a serious shot at gaining promotion in 2020, retaining the key personnel that got them so close this season is extremely important. Last week, Leeds made arguably the biggest signing they will make all summer by extending Marcelo Bielsa’s contract for another year; a huge step in the right direction. But it can’t stop there. Investment is sorely needed in Leeds’s squad, that much is obvious, but perhaps more important is keeping together the spine of the team who have spent a year operating under Bielsa’s tactics. Only from this solid foundation of experience and youthful potential can Leeds really hope to repeat the successes of the recent season and advance that one step further next time around.
The interest in some of the Leeds United stars is going to turn Bielsa’s and the fans’ summer into a nervy few months, but if possible, these are the players I think we should hold on to. And if you haven’t read part 1 on who could be leaving Leeds, get caught up here.
Kalvin Phillips – KEEP
This is vitally important. Phillips, in my opinion, is the bedrock and beating heart of the team at such a young age. Not only that, he also seems to have matured and developed so much under Bielsa that I would consider giving him the captains armband over the unconvincing Liam Cooper next season. This would be a controversial move, but Phillips carries a calmer head on his shoulders than most at the club, including Cooper, and at just 23 years old, he was arguably the best defensive midfielder in the league last year.
With a passing accuracy of 82% on an average of 58 passes per game for the season, it is clear to see the importance Phillips plays in launching Leeds attacks from his now natural holding midfield position. The academy graduate often drops deeper and picks up the ball in between the two centre backs, allowing Leeds’s full backs to push up down the wing; a classic example of the type of expansive football Marcelo Bielsa has implemented at Leeds. There are not many who play this role better than Phillips in the Championship, and this has led to newly promoted Aston Villa becoming the favourites to capture the youngster this summer. Although a big money offer from a Premier League side may tempt the Leeds board to sell, giving Phillips a new and improved contract could be better value for money in the long run, as he has the potential to be a legend at Elland Road.
Think you'll struggle to see a better midfield performance all season than that imperious display from Kalvin Phillips tonight. The bedrock of this side and absolutely undroppable #lufc— Jon Howe (@jonhowe1971) February 13, 2019
Liam Cooper & Pontus Jansson – KEEP
Despite me nearly printing out pictures of Liam Cooper’s face to put on a darts board after his un-heroics in the playoff semi-final, keeping Cooper and Jansson in the heart of our defence should be of huge importance to Leeds this summer. Along with Kalvin Phillips, Cooper was voted into the Championship team of the year last season, whilst Jansson on his day is capable of silencing any Championship quality striker. Yet both need to improve their consistency throughout the whole season, and maybe bringing in another top-class centre-half would inspire some healthy competition in Leeds’s depleted defence. Cooper is expected to stay at Elland Road, and will probably head into the 2019/20 season as a captain who might feel he owes the club for his inability to handle the pressure of guiding Leeds to a playoff final.
Jansson’s future on the other hand is less secure, as Portuguese behemoths Benfica are reportedly interested in signing the Swedish international. The attraction of playing for such a high profile club could undoubtedly turn the heads of most players playing at this level, but it appears fan favourite Jansson is committed to Leeds after expressing in a recent interview that:
“I am 110 percent Leeds. I’ll be there until the day they don’t want me”.
If I was Bielsa right now, I would want him to stick around for another season at least, and the club should be working hard to make that happen.
Benfica who will be in the CL next season are rumoured to be interested in Pontus Jansson. I think this is an example of what AR meant when he said it would be a tough summer. Clubs that finish high in the C/ship can see their best players picked off. #LUFC— MCC1 (@1amcc) June 1, 2019
Kemar Roofe – KEEP
If he stays fit, Kemar Roofe can easily get 20 goals a season. He has shown in spurts this season how difficult he is to defend against, and he is the one player you could argue seems to totally understand Bielsa’s philosophy and his role within it. The Bielsa impact has significantly helped Roofe develop his game, as his touch, finishing and movement all improved immeasurably from last season. Like an excited puppy about to go out for a walk, Roofe’s unyielding movement across the defensive line is a nightmare for the opposition to track and creates gaping holes in the defence for Mateusz Klich and our wide players to exploit.
4 games— bet365 (@bet365) August 21, 2018
Kemar Roofe is thriving under Bielsa-ball. pic.twitter.com/Z6mVtQSBSR
Roofe’s ability to pull defenders out of position was one of the main factors in Leeds’s lethal start to the season, as teams struggled to come to terms with it. And if they are to continue dominating games with a sharp, fluid attacking system next year, Roofe should be at its apex. His breakout 2018/19 season has already alerted the likes of Aston Villa and Burnley, causing speculation over Roofe’s desire to stay in the championship for another season. However, if these deals fail to materialise, Roofe deserves a new contract, and one that puts to bed any doubt over his future at the club. Lock him in, sign a natural goal-scorer to replace Patrick Bamford, and Leeds’s front line will be looking very dangerous.
#LUFC star Kemar Roofe is set to demand a new four-year deal worth £30,000-a-week when crunch talks over his future at Elland Road finally kick off. (Various)— White Knight LUFC (@WhiteKnightLUFC) June 1, 2019
Jack Clarke – KEEP
Here is a kid whose potential exceeds Leeds United. Clarke is a testament to the unbelievably promising youth setup at Elland Road, and someone who deserves a full season in the first team. We saw glimpses of what he can do this season – most notably how he changed the game away at Villa in December – just imagine how good he’s going to be after a full season under Bielsa’s spell. The Premier League clearly beckons for young Clarke, and Tottenham Hotspur are reportedly interested in signing him this summer.
Fans, including me, would love to see Clarke in a Leeds shirt again next season as there is nothing more exciting that watching your young, direct, skillful winger terrorising opposition defences on a regular basis. However, if an offer of £15,000,000 plus came in, Leeds may be forced to accept it. With ongoing speculation regarding QSI’s investment destined to plod along for the foreseeable future, and Radrizzani hinting at a depleted transfer kitty, this kind of money would do wonders in upgrading and thickening out the squad. Is this a case of sacrificing one to benefit the whole team?
Let me know down in the comments who you want to stay at Leeds!