A medical and the completion of formalities at Elland Road yesterday gave Leeds United their third signing of the summer. Marc Roca has arrived from Bayern Munich, guaranteeing three new faces at Thorp Arch when pre-season training begins in earnest.
Leeds were handicapped by the size of their squad last season, devoid of the depth of resources needed to avoid a nasty year in the Premier League, and one of the priorities in this window was to increase the number of bodies in their dressing room, avoiding the same pitfall.
But what of the club’s existing pool and the players who Roca, Rasmus Kristensen and Brenden Aaronson are joining? What is their contractual situation and what might the transfer window hold for some of them?
Here, The Athletic looks at every first-team squad member to analyse their role in the 12 months ahead…
Illan Meslier (contract expires 2026)
Meslier will start the new season as first-choice, regardless of whether Leeds decide to bring another goalkeeper in. The club conceded a huge number of goals in 2021-22 but they have rigid faith in Meslier, not least because he is 22 and a long way from the age where a keeper should peak. Premier League survival avoided any discussion about his immediate future. Meslier is a France international in the making and he has a very good reputation on the continent. The Championship would have felt like a step backwards for him.
Kristoffer Klaesson (contract expires 2025)
His one appearance for the first team, as a substitute away at Wolves in March, was an impressive one, helping to seal a crucial win, but Klaesson is a longer-term prospect and Leeds have been giving thought to recruiting a more proven number two as cover for Meslier. The possibility is under discussion and they tried in January for Darren Randolph at West Ham. It might be that ultimately Klaesson continues on the bench but the club seem tempted to secure a bit more insurance.
Dani van den Heuvel (contract expires 2024)
Another developing player at 19 and although he’s been seen on first-team match days, warming up with Meslier and Klaesson, he’s behind both of them in an incredibly young crop of goalkeepers. He’s made a handful of appearances for the under-23s but Klaesson tends to feature far more at that level and is likely to do so again next term, unless an incoming transfer makes Leeds think about sending the Norwegian out on loan.
Kiko Casilla (contract expires 2023)
Back from a loan at Elche in Spain which did not go especially well. For all sorts of reasons, reintegrating him would be a retrograde step and Leeds will find a way to move him on this summer, potentially by settling the remainder of his contract.
Elia Caprile (contract expires 2024)
The 20-year-old has spent the past year on loan in Italy’s lower leagues, amassing 36 league appearances and impressive reviews. But much as Leeds like him, giving him more of an opportunity will be difficult. Italian sides are looking at him again.
Rasmus Kristensen (contract expires 2027)
A new signing from RB Salzburg and player who, barring injury, will start the 2022-23 season as first choice. Luke Ayling’s injury has left that berth open but Kristensen might well have claimed a place in Jesse Marsch’s first XI regardless and there is a definite sense of the squad transitioning more dramatically in this window than it has in any other since 2018. All being well, Kristensen will spend his prime years at Elland Road — and Marsch will use him heavily when the football starts up again.
Luke Ayling (contract expires 2023)
Ayling is part of a handful of players who are out of contract at the end of the 2022-23 season, with no extension in place as it stands. He underwent knee surgery in May and, at this stage, he is not expected to be fully fit for the beginning of the new Premier League campaign. Leeds will want him as competition for Kristensen but the signing of the Denmark international is part of the process of moving on from Ayling at right-back. With the popular defender turning 31 in August, there is a decision to be made on his longer-term future.
Cody Drameh (contract expires 2024)
Drameh caused controversy by asking to leave Leeds on loan in January, at a time when the club’s injury crisis was at its height. But Cardiff City was a good move for him and a few months there was enough to win him the club’s player-of-the-year award. If that looked like opening a door for him at Elland Road, Kristensen’s arrival has probably closed it again. Assuming Ayling is not forced to miss much of next season, a loan might suit Drameh and Leeds again.
Junior Firpo (contract expires 2025)
Season one at Elland Road was extremely difficult for Firpo, who struggled both with injury and to get to grips with the Premier League. Leeds seem intent on sticking with him, though, and Firpo has been looking at buying a house in north Leeds, indicating that he will be here for the foreseeable. Switching from Barcelona to Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds was a shock to the system for him and it remains to be seen if he can find his flow second time around. He needs to — Leeds are otherwise devoid of other experienced left-backs and, as it stands, don’t appear to be targeting another one.
Leif Davis (contract expires 2023)
Out of the picture recently and did not make too much of his loan at Bournemouth. Leeds are light at left-back but where Davis is concerned, the boat seems to have sailed.
Liam Cooper (contract expires 2024)
Came back into the team after injury towards the end of the season and will be a central part of the squad next season too. He has retained the captaincy under Marsch and the bigger call for Leeds beyond what happens here and now is whether they see Cooper being part of their plans beyond the expiry of his current deal in 2024. For the time being, he is still the main voice in the dressing room and a player Marsch is likely to rely on regularly again.
Diego Llorente (contract expires 2024)
If Leeds intend to push Charlie Cresswell more over the coming 12 months then his appearances are going to come at the expense of either Llorente or Robin Koch. Llorente, though, has two years to run on his contract and Leeds have given no indication that he will not be here for 2022-23. Centre-back is the one area where the club categorically expect no incoming recruitment. They have numerous options already and money has been and will be spent elsewhere in the window.
Robin Koch (contract expires 2024)
Koch’s two years at Elland Road have been disrupted by injuries but he should remain with the club this summer and Leeds still believe that he has the makings of a quality centre-back. If he stays fit, and if he has a good pre-season, there is a strong chance of him making himself first-choice under Marsch — although given that Leeds are finally addressing their midfield, Koch as a holding player might be an experiment they no longer have much reason to persist with.
Pascal Struijk (contract expires 2024)
Struijk started 22 league games last season but the year was a hard one and his performances are unlikely to have pushed him ahead of Cooper in the pecking order — assuming that Marsch remains as set as Bielsa on a centre-back pairing made up of one left-footer and one right-footer. But Struijk gives Leeds competition there and this window was all about making sure the club have more quality in depth than they did in 2021-22. He’ll be visible again.
Charlie Cresswell (contract expires 2025)
He’s been making waves with England’s Under-21s and he is one of the brightest prospects from Leeds’ academy, a player who looks more than ready for first-team football. Unlike last season, if Cresswell’s chances are going to be limited at Elland Road (in a position where Leeds have plenty of resources), there will be far more willingness to send him out on loan and no problem in finding a club.
Leo Hjelde (contract expires 2025)
Bielsa liked him, Marsch likes him and everyone expects him to become a very capable centre-back. But his opportunities so far were down to injuries more than anything and the 18-year-old will continue to develop in the under-23s league.
Central midfielders (7)
Kalvin Phillips (contract expires 2024)
As The Athletic reported on Wednesday, there is growing expectation that Phillips is set to leave for Manchester City. City want him and if they meet Leeds’ valuation, it’s very hard to see him saying no to the move. As for his contract, there was no progress on it last season and City’s interest means that there will be no progress on it while the likelihood of a bid from the Etihad exists. It would be very difficult at this stage to predict that he will be a Leeds player when the new season starts.
Adam Forshaw (contract expires 2023)
A big year coming up for Forshaw. Leeds have an option to extend his contract for another 12 months, to 2024, and while the intention would be to do so their next move will depend on how Forshaw’s fitness holds up. He played well after his return from a long absence but fractured a kneecap with a month of last term to go. The timeframe of his recovery gave him every chance of being fully fit for pre-season, though, and he will definitely have a part to play.
Marc Roca (contract expires 2026)
As the latest face to arrive at Elland Road, it goes without saying that Roca will be a key part of the strategy for next season, most likely in a holding midfield position which allows him to pull the strings and pick his passes. Like Kristensen, he’s on the brink of his peak years and Leeds are hoping on the basis of his prior performances for Espanyol that he will prove a bit of a steal for £10 million.
Stuart Dallas (contract expires 2024)
Dallas is on a long recovery road after fracturing a femur in April. His operation went well and everyone seems happy with his progress so far but Leeds are resigned to the fact that he is unlikely to be available until the midway point of the season. In perfect shape, Dallas is an incredibly useful player — a committed and adaptable presence who Marsch will want to make use of when he can. But the Northern Ireland international will need patience in his attempts to get back to full tilt.
Mateusz Klich (contract expires 2024)
With Roca and Brenden Aaronson arriving and Leeds certain to replace Phillips if he moves on, it is hard to know how much game time Klich can expect next season. He was in and out under Marsch and consistent top form has eluded him for the past 18 months (albeit amid a collective drop in form from Leeds last season). He is 32 now and one of the players with a question mark over him — though not someone Leeds are in a hurry to lose.
Brenden Aaronson (contract expires 2027)
The second most expensive signing Leeds have ever made, narrowly short of the fee paid for Rodrigo in 2020. Leeds wanted him in January, they made sure they got him as soon as Premier League survival was assured and although it is not usual to find £25-million players on various benches across the top flight, Leeds are not so flush with quality that they can afford for Aaronson to be bit-part initially. This is a deal that they will want to catch fire from the start.
Lewis Bate (contract expires 2024)
The arrival of new midfielders means Bate is destined to be a fringe player for now, and he will doubtless attract loan interest from elsewhere. Leeds rate him extremely highly but one of the changes as a result of Bielsa leaving was that the club planned to be far more open to temporary offers for their younger prospects. If Bate is likely to play some part then Marsch will keep him close. But he is someone who could benefit from a regular run of first-team games.
Jamie Shackleton (contract expires 2024)
This is a summer where Shackleton needs to find himself a move, whether on loan or permanently. He has been trying to break into Leeds’ starting line-up for a long time now without making himself stick and, at 22, he has to be playing more. There is little to suggest that opportunities will increase under Marsch next season so expect bids to start materialising as the window goes on. A change of scene would seem to be in everyone’s interests.
Raphinha (contract expires 2024)
If Barcelona were able to pay the money, Raphinha would go there tomorrow. Barcelona have no money, though, and alternative interest is coming from Tottenham and Arsenal, both of whom would presently find a deal easier to finance. That said, Raphinha seems set on the Nou Camp and no one is ruling out the possibility that he sticks around until the World Cup, with the intention of securing a big move on the other side of it. Like Phillips, talk of a new contract has faded away in the past six months and if Raphinha was to re-consider negotiating one, he would want a release clause at a level which did not price rival teams out of landing him.
Dan James (contract expires 2026)
He was Leeds’ most expensive signing last summer, at a cost of £25 million, and only two outfield players — Raphinha and Dallas — started more league games than him. Many of those were out of position, though, and while Marsch’s tactics have led to a narrow set-up on the field, there should be far less call for James to play at No 9, provided Bamford is fit and Leeds follow through with plans to recruit another centre-forward. He is very much in the picture, though.
Jack Harrison (contract expires 2024)
There has been tentative interest in Harrison during the past year from Tottenham and Newcastle, but Marsch likes him and there is no indication at this stage that Leeds would be willing to sell him, unless any bid was too large to turn down. But with only two years left on his deal, Leeds will have to think about extending it soon.
Crysencio Summerville (contract expires 2023)
Summerville tried to get himself out of Leeds on a short-term loan in January, only to find that the club would not let him go. His contract is counting down and an extension is under discussion but the club have not yet committed to allowing him to take up loan opportunities in the season ahead, despite the fact that he is a fair way down the pecking order. Nottingham Forest like him, as do Sheffield United. There is interest from abroad too. Summerville will want game time.
Helder Costa (contract expires 2024)
Costa spent this season on loan at Valencia but did not perform in a way that encouraged the Spanish club to take up an option to sign him permanently. Leeds are prepared to involve him in pre-season training but another transfer in this window is probable, not least because Marsch hardly needs another winger. He has one of the most well-connected agents in Jorge Mendes.
Ian Poveda (contract expires 2024)
Poveda suffered a badly broken leg during a loan at Blackburn Rovers. He completed his rehabilitation before last season finished and will be ready to commence pre-season training but it will take a big impact to persuade Leeds that heading out again is not the right move.
Patrick Bamford (contract expires 2026)
Last season was a wash-out, ruined by injuries, but Bamford signed a new long-term contract before it started and he will be right in the thick of it with the summer behind him. At 28, this in theory should be him about to hit the best years of his career and the extent to which Leeds missed him, especially when results turned against Bielsa, stared everyone in the face. He is still the most out-and-out No 9 at Elland Road.
Rodrigo (contract expires 2024)
Had Rodrigo been a roaring success at Leeds, they would have initiated contract talks with him by now in the way they wanted to with Phillips and Raphinha. But after two very mixed years, Rodrigo’s situation is difficult to read. Leeds are not actively working to move him on, but at the same time no one at the club is pretending that their record signing has hit the mark. Marsch values him and has tried to make Rodrigo feel as included and important as possible — but if it refuses to click, you wonder how much longer this one will last.
Tyler Roberts (contract expires 2024)
Quite where Roberts fits in the pecking order is difficult to say, particularly if Leeds deliver on their plan to bring in another striker. He got fairly regular games under Bielsa but he was a lightning rod for frustration about results and performances and it might be harder for him to nail down a place with Marsch as head coach. There have been no offers for him at this stage, though, and attention at Elland Road in the first month of the summer has been focused heavily on incomings.
Joe Gelhardt (contract expires 2024)
Leeds made noises about extending Gelhardt’s contract last season and, with survival secured, do not be surprised if he has been handed improved terms by the time the Premier League term kicks off. Chances here and there were enough for Gelhardt to show his ability and he has not needed many games to make people sit up. He should be increasingly prominent under Marsch going forward and if he continues to develop at his current rate, Leeds need him on a longer deal.
Sam Greenwood (contract expires 2023)
Greenwood pushed himself right into the picture towards the end of last season, not least with his performance in the final-day salvage job at Brentford. It was a big risk on Marsch’s part to play him in midfield but other people at Leeds have long thought that Greenwood’s link-up play and knack of finding pockets of space going forward would allow him to play in a deeper role, rather than purely as a nine. Marsch has said publicly that he wants to make more of Greenwood so, like Gelhardt, expect a new deal to come onto the agenda.
(Top photo: Getty Images)
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