In this article, Ciaran O’Hare looks forward to the Leeds United Under-23’s season and gives you the low-down on what to expect…
All eyes are on Leeds United’s senior team upon the club’s return to Premier League football but the days of promising talent breaking through before being quickly sold-on are over.
Instead, Leeds are the ones making shrewd deals for some of the best young talents that Victor Orta and his scouting team can find. Joe Geldhardt, Cody Drameh, Charlie Allen, Dani van den Heuvel and Sam Greenwood have arrived in the summer from the UK and Europe, and are all expected to be seen in the first-team set-up sooner or later.
In the meantime, they have arrived to replenish areas of Leeds United’s Under-23 team as they make the step-up to the Premier League 2, following the academy’s recent upgrade to Category 1 status.
However, they also arrive at a squad whose coaching staff make-up is unclear at least in the public eye. Carlos Corberan departed from his role as manager to make a step-up of his own, becoming the head coach of Huddersfield Town in the Championship.
Under him, the Under-23s won the PDL title while seeing several players like Jamie Shackleton, Jack Clarke, Pascal Strujik, Leif Davis and more get their chance in the first team. Now with these players making the step-up, new young signings and the best of the under-18s will fill the gaps left by the most recent generation of academy graduates. They have perhaps an even bigger opportunity to develop their talent and ability not only in the Premier League 2 but also against senior teams in League One and League Two in the EFL Trophy.
But what can we expect from the Under-23 side this season? Who will line up for them? And where and how can we watch them? We’ve got all of these questions answered for you in this Leeds United Under-23 Season Preview.
What competitions will the Under 23s be contesting?
Premier League 2
Now that they have acquired Category 1 status, the Under-23s will now be competing at the highest level of football for their age group: the creatively named Premier League 2.
The Premier League 2 is made up of the 24 teams who qualify for Category 1 status under the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP). These 24 teams are split into two leagues of 12 with two teams swapping places each season through promotion/relegation. Leeds will be competing in the lower division (Division 2).
Every team will play the other teams in their division home and away. The winners of Division 2 are automatically promoted but teams ranked second to fifth go into a playoff, the winner of which is also promoted. The bottom two teams from Division 1 are relegated.
As for eligibility, all players born after 1 January 1996 are eligible to play in the 2019/20 season. However, each team can field a goalkeeper over the age limit and up to three “over-age” outfield players in every match. On top of this, each club must host at least three league matches at their main stadium during the course of the season. This helps to enhance the matchday experience for the players and fans.
The Premier League Cup
Within the Premier League’s Under 23 system, there is also a knock-out tournament: the Premier League Cup.
The Premier League Cup was brought in in 2016 to replace the old Under-21 Premier League Cup which was introduced in 2013 to enhance the competitiveness of the Professional Development Phase calendar with knockout football alongside the regular league campaign.
The Under-21 Premier League Cup was a straight knock-out format but the new competition follows the same style as the UEFA Champions League with 32 clubs in the main group stage. Like Premier League 2, it will be contested between Under-23 teams with each side allowed three over-age outfield players and a goalkeeper born before 1 January 1995 in the 2018/19 season.
If more than 32 clubs enter the competition, a qualifying knock-out stage takes place between Category 3 and 4 clubs to determine who joins Category 1 and 2 sides in the Group Stage. The Group Stage sees eight groups of four clubs split off with each team playing their opposing clubs home and away. The top two teams advance to the knock-out stage.
In the knock-out stage, the last 16, quarter-finals, semi-finals and final will all be one-off knockout ties. If the ties are level after 90 minutes, they go to extra-time and then penalties if the teams still can’t be separated.
The EFL Trophy
The Whites begin their first campaign for over ten years in the EFL Trophy next week as they take-on Accrington, Barrow and Blackpool in the Northern Group Stage. This gives the Leeds United youth an opportunity to gain more experience in senior football while also getting the chance to compete for silverware and play at Wembley Stadium.
In terms of format, 64 teams enter from Round One, including all 48 teams from League One and League Two. They are joined by 16 Category 1 Premier League and EFL Championship academy/Under-21 sides. The competition now features 16 regional groups of four teams (with eight groups in each of Northern and Southern sections). The top two from each group progress to the knock-out stages. The first two rounds of the knock-out stages remain regionalised before an open draw from the quarter-finals onwards.
During the group phase, if the scores are level at the end of the match, then penalties are taken immediately without recourse to extra time. The winning team is awarded 2 points and the losing team 1 point.
As for eligibility, six of the starting eleven must have played at Under-21 level as of June 30 in the preceding season. In addition, teams may only include two players on the teamsheet who are over 21 and who have made 40 or more senior appearances (also measured as of June 30 in the preceding season).
What will the Under 23 squad look like this season?
The academy team has always been a beloved part of the club, as supporters have followed the team all over the country to support them when possible and the team is set for another very exciting and promising season.
The squad’s fresh faces are among the ones to watch with Cody Drameh arriving from Fulham for an initial fee of £400,000. The 18-year old played in the Premier League 2 last season, assisting seven goals in 17 matches from right-back. He proved to be a great attacking threat for the Cottagers, showing strength on the ball, a direct style of play and good defensive capabilities.
With Pascal Strujik making an impressive breakthrough into the first team late-on last season, Charlie Cresswell is due to step-up to take the vacant centre-back spot in the Under-23s this season.
Last season’s Under-18s captain caught the eyes of many Leeds fans in his captivating performance against Hull City at Elland Road. Despite playing centre-half, Cresswell took after his dad Richard, scoring twice in a 3–1 victory and showing himself to be everything a team looks for in a modern-day centre-back. He’s comfortable on the ball, has an eye for a pass, and has also proved to be strong in defence and in the air. We can expect to see Cresswell pushing for a first-team breakthrough in the coming seasons.
Stuart McKinstry, signed from Motherwell last season, has recently been rewarded for his impressive start to life at Elland Road with a new three-year contract. The Scotsman showed himself to be a very exciting player on the wing in just a few months with the Leeds Under-23s.
The 17-year old hit the ground running, adapting well to the style of football the club has instilled throughout the club while showing himself as a direct goal-scoring winger. McKinstry was lauded for his performances against Watford and Manchester United last season. He is another very exciting asset to the club as he joins a long line of Scottish contingency at the club from the past and the present.
The latest addition to this exciting young squad is Sam Greenwood. Having signed from Arsenal for an initial fee of £1.5 million — possibly doubling in price depending on incentives — Greenwood was well known amongst Arsenal’s fan base as a one-to-watch at the football club.
He has an impressive record at the Under-18 level for the Gunners as well as his native Sunderland. The 18-year-old scored six and assisted six in 15 matches for Sunderland’s Under-18s in the 17/18 season, before moving to Arsenal for the next season, where he scored 10 and assisted five in 21 appearances. With an extra three goals and one assist last season to add to his record, Greenwood boasts 31 direct goal involvements in 37 appearances in the Under-18 Premier League. He also has a brilliant record for the England Under-18s, scoring 12 goals in 14 outings.
A versatile attacker, who can use both feet and has an eye for goal, it’s little wonder Leeds went in for him and shows what a prospect Leeds United has become. Greenwood left Arsenal and rejected Manchester United to join the Whites.
Full Squad Depth Chart for the Under-23s
Who will be managing the Under 23s this season?
At the time of writing, we are unsure of who will take up the task of leading the Leeds Under-23s into the Premier League 2 and the EFL Trophy in 2020/2021. There is no doubt that, whoever does sit in the hot seat, they have a very talented squad on their hands.
Where can you watch the Under 23s this season?
As always, the games should be available on LUTV and on Periscope through the Twitter feed.