It’s not just the senior team who are adapting to a new league this season, with the under-23s stepping-up to The Premier League 2 second division from The Professional Development League in which they won in 2019.
This has been campaign of change for the young Whites, with Mark Jackson taking the place of Carlos Corberan who is currently the Huddersfield Town head coach.
Promotion to The Premier League and academy category one status has brought a great challenge on and off the pitch, as the young squad have an even bigger challenge to break into the Leeds senior squad.
However, Marcelo Bielsa stated in a recent press conference that “around 50 per cent of the players in the 23s can apply for a place on our team,” and many of them are making a fantastic case this season for their name to be on the team sheet.
The youngster’s journey began with a difficult lesson learned as they were beaten 4-0 away from home by Stoke City, with several players in the squad who would subsequently leave the club on loan. Alfie McCalmont, Robbie Gotts, Bryce Hosannah and Jordan Stevens featured, but could not prevent the thrashing that occurred.
A 2-2 draw at home to Wolves followed, a game in which Leeds were 2-0 up at half-time thanks to goals from new boys Joe Gelhardt and Sam Greenwood who both opened their accounts for the team that day. Another lesson learned for the youngsters in the importance of game management while they would once again be tested on their response to adversity.
Respond they did, as they returned from The Academy of Light with a 3-1 victory over Sunderland thanks to former Black Cat Sam Greenwood scored a sublime hat-trick. The team’s first win of the season saw things really come together on the pitch to the level that we know the team can perform.
In this game we got to see Sam Greenwood at his best, showing a great understanding on the striker role in Marcelo Bielsa’s system. His movement was that of Patrick Bamford’s, drifting no further wide than the channels of the box, dropping deep to support Joe Gelhardt and causing havoc in the opposition midfield.
The way he carried the ball was similar to what we’ve seen of Rodrigo Moreno in a White shirt so far. Good vision and passing ability while carrying the ball well at pace. Comfortable when on the ball deep in the midfield, while the 18-year old provided his own clinical touch to score his hat-trick.
They then beat an unbeaten Middlesbrough side 1-0 at Thorp Arch, thanks to a winner from Sam Greenwood in a cagey and scrappy affair in which we got a first look at new signing Crysencio Summerville.
Breaking down a well organised counter attacking team and managing a game that won’t always allow them to play the style that they’d like to play. Yet another valuable lesson for the youngsters.
Meanwhile, five goals in three game earned Sam Greenwood The Premier League 2 ‘player of the month’ award for September.
Away from The Premier League 2, many of the under-23s would feature in The EFL Trophy away to Barrow with most of them making their senior debuts for the club. Max Dean emerged as a new rising star in the Leeds academy as he scored two goals in a 2-2 draw, while Crysencio Summerville also managed to bag an assist on his debut.
The 23s were to be handed another tough test away to Reading the next week as the squad was heavily injury-stricken, with the gaps being filled by under-18s. Jeremiah Mullen and Kris Moore started in the defence while Charlie Allen, Max Dean and Max McMillan were brought in further up the pitch.
In a crazy and difficult 90 minutes, Reading came out 3-2 winners, with Max Dean scoring his first goal for the under-23s while substitute and fellow under-18 Josh Galloway gave Leeds hope of finding an equaliser late in the second half.
Following the under-18s filling the gaps for suspensions and injuries, it was the turn of some senior players to give the youngsters a hand. The 23s beat then-table toppers Norwich City 2-0 thanks to goals from Ian Poveda and Raphinha, who showed himself to be an exciting player in his early days at the club.
Tyler Roberts also impressed, as we sometimes forget that the Wales international is just 21-years old and is still developing his game. Roberts played up-front rather than as a number 10, and he caused havoc in the Norwich midfield as the extra man when dropping deep as he played a part in both goals.
This game is also where midfielder Jack Jenkins has begun to catch the eye of more and more fans as his displays in the middle have shown great energy and footballing IQ in the Bielsa system.
They didn’t need any help from the seniors however when facing Crystal Palace at Thorp Arch, battering the Londoners 4-1 thanks to goals from Joe Gelhardt (2), Max Dean and an OG. Nohan Kenneh returned from injury while McMillan and Dean retained their places in the team as the two have grabbed their opportunities to step-up with both hands.
This was one of the most exciting performances from the 23s so far as players such as Gelhardt, Jenkins and Cody Drameh showed themselves to be the closest to breaking into the first team this season as they have all shown their versatility, energy and understanding of the style passed down to the youngsters.
Niall Huggins has also impressed at left-back, providing good competition for Leif Davis for a future left-back place, but it’s a difficult battle for Huggins to win at the moment.
However, the team would go into the international break with a lot to think about as they gave away a 3-0 lead to Newcastle United as The Toon turned it around to 4-3. An electric start put the youngsters three goals to the good inside 35 minutes thanks to a Liam McCarron double upon returning from injury before Joe Gelhardt scored a penalty kick.
But Newcastle managed to ruffle their feathers and capitalise on some poor mistakes and defending, turning things around as the Leeds youth learned yet another valuable lesson about game management and leadership when under the cosh.
As the Leeds under-23s enter the international break, they are left with a rollercoaster of a start to reflect upon as they sit second in The PL2 division 2 table while several teams around them have a game in hand.
The ones to watch in this team are as follows:
Joe Gelhardt - Arrived from Wigan Athletic in the summer and is adapting brilliantly to his place in the Leeds side. Gelhardt is fantastic on the ball, can provide decent defensive ability thanks to his physicality and big build and he can score goals. Whenever he can find space he is causing teams all sorts of problems.
Sam Greenwood - The ‘player of the month’ for September as he scored five in three matches after signing from Arsenal. He too has adapted well to his new role, combining well with fellow new boy, Joe Gelhardt.
Max Dean - One of the newly promoted under-18 players having switched from Everton earlier this year. Dean has surprised us all in stepping-up to the 23s while also scoring twice against Barrow for Leeds u21s in the EFL Trophy. A winger or striker, he could provide stern competition in the years to come.
Jack Jenkins - A player whom the fans are becoming more familiar with as an energetic and intelligent midfielder who plays well as an eight or four in the midfield. He has lots of players to beat in order to climb the pecking order, with Robbie Gotts and Alfie McCalmont currently out on loan. This could be great timing for him though as the two are away from the club and he could push through.
Charlie Cresswell - Despite being one of the players to step-up to the 23s this season, Cresswell has adorned the captain’s armband on several occasions for the team. He’s shown everything needed in a modern centre-back at his young age and may well be a future captain should he stick around at Thorp Arch. He did okay on his senior debut in the League Cup against Hull City and being picked for that match shows how highly thought of he is by Marcelo Bielsa, he has also started being called up for England u19 duty.
The academy has been a source of great pride for the Leeds United supporters, with several academy products making it to the first team, The Premier League and beyond. Now, so many players in this team could break through in the years to come, and hopefully it will be them who guide us into a bright future for the club.