International fixtures are coming thick and fast in this latest break in club football, and watching Leeds United players on the European stage is the next best thing to witnessing them play together at Elland Road.
Unfortunately, Ezgjan Alioski’s injury and Mateusz Klich’s absence from Poland’s matchday squad left only Robin Koch, Stuart Dallas and Liam Cooper to represent their nations over the last two days, with Tyler Roberts also seeing a few minutes of action.
But how did they perform in the first round of Nations League fixtures?
Robin Koch - GERMANY 3-1 Ukraine
Robin Koch vs. Ukraine:— LUFCDATA (@LUFCDATA) November 14, 2020
90 mins played
94.9% pass accuracy
56/59 successful passes
15 final third passes
6/8 successful long passes
6 ball recoveries
2 duels won
1 chance created
Thrived in a defensive midfield role tonight. #LUFC pic.twitter.com/ACcheZkLdT
In October, I suggested that Leeds could look to Koch to ease the pressure on Kalvin Phillips in defensive midfield, should the Yorkshire Pirlo endure an off-day. As Phillips’ return from injury in time for the upcoming Arsenal fixture lies in the balance, I will make that same suggestion again after the 24-year-old truly shone in a midfield role for Germany.
Only defender Antonio Rudiger boasted a higher passing accuracy than Koch’s 95%, and no outfield player on the pitch bettered the Leeds defender’s seven accurate long balls. He also topped the charts with his four interceptions, while his two tackles and one clearance make for good reading regarding his defensive display.
The highlight of the game for Koch was undoubtedly his pre-assist for Werner’s first goal of the night. Receiving the ball around 30 yards away from goal, the summer signing lifted an exquisite ball right into the path of Leon Goretzka, who did well to control the pass and provide Werner with a point blank finish.
As Pascal Struijk struggles to replicate Phillips’ defensive output while playing in the holding midfield role, and Mateusz Klich fails to create as many chances stationed deeper on the pitch, it could benefit Leeds to hand Koch an opportunity to play as the anchor in Marcelo Bielsa’s side. His performance against Ukraine was hugely promising, and highlights the experience the former Freiburg man has playing in defensive midfield in the Bundesliga.
Not only did Koch put in a sturdy defensive performance, but the number of accurate passes he delivered in the final third showcase his ability to create chances from deep. A similar display against Arsenal could boost the Peacocks’ chances of getting their Premier League form back on track. As for Germany, this victory sent them top of their Nations League group with just one fixture left to play.
Stuart Dallas - Austria 2-1 NORTHERN IRELAND
Having suffered immense heartbreak after Northern Ireland’s chances of qualifying for next summer’s European Championships were ended with a 2-1 loss to Slovakia, Dallas was handed the captain’s armband to try and make amends against Austria.
In unfortunate circumstances, he was unable to lead his side to victory in his 51st international appearance, with two late goals leaving Northern Ireland three points from safety in Group B1 and thus forcing the nation on the brink of relegation to the third tier of the Nations League.
Stuart Dallas vs. Austria:— LUFCDATA (@LUFCDATA) November 15, 2020
90 mins played
19/28 successful passes
7 ball recoveries
4/6 successful long passes
4/5 duels won
2/2 successful take-ons
1 time fouled
Captained his country in Vienna. #LUFC pic.twitter.com/WCDtkZJgFR
As always, though, the Cookstown Cafu gave his all, completing more dribbles than anyone else on the pitch (2) along with four accurate long balls and two interceptions.
Hopefully the 29-year-old can end the international break on a high as his country face grave odds in their efforts to remain in the second tier; they need to beat Romania - who have a game in hand - before hoping their opponents lose their final group match against Norway.
Liam Cooper - Slovakia 1-0 SCOTLAND
On another night we deservedly take something from the game! We learn and move on. Always an honour! pic.twitter.com/4AwMbk0R0s— Liam Cooper (@LiamCooper__) November 15, 2020
Another Leeds player who performed well on international duty only to suffer a defeat was Liam Cooper, whose impressive display came after he watched Scotland qualify for the European Championships from the bench on Thursday night.
The Whites captain deserved nothing less than a victory, though. Attempting at least 20 more passes than anyone else on the pitch (85), he still boasted a passing accuracy of 87%, while he also topped the charts in aerial duels (7), tackles (4) and interceptions (4).
His recent performances for Leeds have had fans questioning whether the club captain is good enough now that the Whites are in the Premier League, but despite his poor positioning of late, this performance should hopefully ease his critics’ concerns for the time being.
There is a good chance that Cooper could find himself playing against much tougher opposition next year; despite losing, the Scots are still one point ahead of the Czech Republic at the top of Group B2, with just one game left to play.
Tyler Roberts - WALES 1-0 Republic of Ireland
Another home nation on the brink of promotion to the top tier of the Nations League is Wales, although Tyler Roberts’ involvement was limited to the dying moments of the match.
The 21-year-old, who has struggled to make an impact off the bench for Leeds recently, still managed to register a dribble, an interception and a block during his brief cameo.
Roberts will hope to feature in a more prominent role as Wales look to consolidate their position at the top of Group B4 with a positive result against Finland - who are just a point below them - later this week.
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Keep an eye out for the final installment of international roundups this Thursday, which will come after the Nations League fixtures in the two days prior.