Leeds United will play the 2023-24 season in the Championship, but which of their players are likely to stay in the Premier League by securing a transfer?
With the 2022-23 football season now over for English clubs, attention is already turning towards the 2023-24 campaign and the preparations for it.
Every club will be looking to make tangible progress next season, whether that’s simply preserving their top-flight status or retaining the title, as Manchester City managed as part of a Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League treble.
The Premier League said farewell to Leicester City, Southampton and Leeds United last month, as that trio were relegated back to the Championship. Such is the reality of relegation, many of their players won’t be going with them into the second tier, however, and their respective plights will spark bidding wars.
Top-flight clubs around Europe will be attempting pick apart the carcasses of the relegated trio, and as part of a mini-series, we’ve gone through each team to identify the players who’ll be most coveted and where they could end up.
Here, we examine the Leeds players most likely to be on the move.
One of few Leeds players to come out of this season with much credit. It could be argued they’d have been relegated a lot earlier without Rodrigo’s goals.
The forward netted 13 times in the Premier League, with only one of those coming from the spot. Of course, it’s worth saying that his 4.66 expected goals (xG) overperformance was the fifth highest among forwards in the division, and he definitely benefitted from some questionable goalkeeping. However, his strikes show a degree of unpredictability; from his glancing near-post finish against Southampton and the headed flick-on versus Chelsea, to the right-footed scorcher that squeezed under José Sa from a tight angle at home to Wolves.
But Rodrigo probably isn’t a player any team should ever sign for goalscoring alone. This was only the second season in his career he’d scored more than 10 goals in one of the top five leagues, but clearly he can chip in when played further forward. He averaged 5.2 touches per game in the opponents’ box this season, compared to 3.8 across his first two campaigns.
The fact he’s played in a team used to pressing with intensity also shouldn’t be sniffed at. While his own pressing numbers aren’t off the chart, in the context of the Leeds team only Brenden Aaronson (41) averaged more pressures per 90 minutes than Rodrigo (30), and this was a side who tallied the second most pressed sequences in the whole competition (632).
This feeds into a wider point about his work rate. No forward averaged greater velocity per pressure (11.4mph), while only four recorded more total runs than the Spaniard (800). In short, whoever signs Rodrigo will be getting a player with impressive lung power, and in this age of pressing obsessives, that can only be a good thing.
The presence of a relegation release clause that apparently means he’s available on a free will also make Rodrigo an interesting proposition. Real Madrid are said to have considered bringing him back to the Santiago Bernabéu as a squad option for this reason, while any Premier League club – potentially even those promoted – will be confident of matching his current wages, rumoured to be just under £60,000.
Stylistically, Newcastle United might be a good home for Rodrigo. Eddie Howe likes his team to be on the front foot when it comes to pressing, as highlighted by them ranking third for pressed sequences, and as a dynamic forward, he fits a similar profile to many of their existing attackers.
The last time Leeds were relegated, a star player ended up making the move to Manchester United – could Rodrigo follow in Alan Smith’s footsteps? It seems unlikely, but his dynamism might be effective in a side that registered the most direct attacks (102) and goals from such situations (nine) this term.
Perhaps Leeds would have stood a better chance of survival had Tyler Adams not missed the run-in. He sustained a hamstring injury with two months left of the campaign having played every minute of his 24 Premier League appearances to that point, but he did not feature again after 11 March.
Adams caught the eye with his energetic performances at the 2022 World Cup for the United States, and that urgency and his leadership were sorely missed as Leeds failed to save themselves.
Certainly, Adams brings a lot to the table on the defensive side of the game. Among defensive midfielders, he ranked seventh for pressures (429), pressures in the middle third (239) and pressures in the defensive third (148); impressive considering he missed the last two months of the season.
None of those defensive midfielders pressed with greater intensity, though, with his average velocity of 9.9mph level with Declan Rice. The West Ham star’s 13.15 pressures per 90 minutes paled in comparison to Adams, however (17.9).
Perhaps unsurprisingly this translated to being effective at winning the ball back, with just six midfielders making more recoveries than Adams (8.3), who also only ranked behind João Palhinha (4.3) and Casemiro (3.7) for tackles attempted (3.6) per 90 minutes. On top of that, his 1.5 fouls conceded each game was the average among midfielders to attempt at least 2.5 tackles, evidence of him not being excessively reckless either.
It’s extremely unlikely Adams will stay at Leeds in the Championship considering the qualities he’s shown during his short time in the Premier League. In fact, he should have a long list of suitors.
Whereas links between Rodrigo and Man Utd haven’t really surfaced, there have been murmurings of the club’s interest in Adams, and it’s easy to see why when you consider their midfield options still need significant improvement. With Fred rumoured to be on the move, Adams would be a decent replacement given some of their similar attributes, though the American is six years younger and arguably an upgrade defensively.
Obviously, at Old Trafford he’d probably have to accept being a rotation option, but there are plenty of Premier League teams he’d walk straight into. Brighton can offer European football and are likely to need reinforcements even if Moisés Caicedo doesn’t leave. If he does, Adams could be a very able replacement who’d also potentially have significant sell-on value.
Fulham and West Ham are expected to need someone of Adams’ profile as well. Palhinha and Rice will almost certainly be picked up by bigger clubs, and the American compares well to both in terms of defensive metrics.
Behind Rodrigo’s 14 goal involvements, Harrison was the only other Leeds player to reach double figures, scoring five times and setting up another seven. The chances of him playing in the Championship are miniscule.
Harrison did only sign a new five-year deal earlier this year, but that agreement is said to include a relegation clause that puts him in a strong position and should identify him as a potential bargain pick-up for someone.
Leicester City agreed a deal worth an initial £20m for Harrison at the end of the January transfer window, according to Sky Sports, but Leeds pulled the plug at the 11th hour. They now look likely to get roughly half that fee.
Harrison could be described as an old-fashioned winger. Although he can play from the right, the left is where he’s most at home, with most of his game focused on being a constant source of supply to the attack. As such, only three midfielders (minimum 1,000 minutes played) averaged more than his 3.4 open-play crosses per 90 minutes this season.
Part of that involves making space for himself or getting his team on the front foot through his direct style of play – and if he’s one thing, it’s direct. We can measure how direct a player is by dividing their progressive carry distance by total carry distance, and Harrison’s 168.0 score in this metric was the fifth highest among all wide midfielders and wingers in the Premier League. In all, he tallied 212 progressive carries which, among the same group of players, saw him rank eighth – that was also his position for dribbles attempted per 90 minutes (3.8).
But he’s also – as perhaps we should expect of those who’ve played under Marcelo Bielsa – hard-working off the ball, with only Joe Aribo (1.5) and Martin Ødegaard (1.4) bettering his 1.2 final-third recoveries every 90 minutes among midfielders.
Much like with Adams, Harrison will likely have a plenty of choice. Some may feel Brentford wouldn’t be enough of a step up, but the Bees are an ambitious club and have a host of physical threats Harrison would surely love to aim for with his crosses – even with Ivan Toney banned for the rest of the year due to breaches of the FA’s betting regulations.
West Ham are rumoured to be keen, while Harrison appears to trend quite closely with Alex Iwobi and Dwight McNeil at Everton, according to our Opta Radar comparisons, suggesting his talents might be appreciated at Goodison Park. The Toffees ranked highly (sixth) for fast breaks (26), which could be opportunities that exploit Harrison’s pace and carrying ability.
Liverpool (35) and Nottingham Forest (28) were also among the most threatening teams in that respect. Harrison could be a decent rotation option at Anfield, whereas a move to the City Ground would be a real signal of ambition from Steve Cooper as Forest look to stick around in the top flight.
Admittedly, identifying a centre-back from the leakiest defence in the Premier League this season as a potential target might sound a little counterintuitive. Leeds conceded 78 goals in 2022-23, five more than any other team.
But it would be unfair to pin the blame squarely on one player given the chaos at the club, even if he was the most present. Koch’s 3,177 minutes played was the most of anyone at Leeds this term, with the German being the only outfield player to breach 3,000 and one of just two (Harrison) to play more than 2,500.
Clearly, he was deemed to be among the few dependable members of the squad, and that also led to him being moved around the team a little. Nominally a central defender, Koch was also used in defensive midfield, a role he had previously become familiar with at Freiburg. While this may not have helped build cohesion at the back, hence how many goals they shipped, it highlights a potentially enticing strength: versatility.
Koch is a defender who’s comfortable on the ball and undoubtedly has a positive mentality. Although his pass completion of 77.4% this term was his worst such record in any season in the top five leagues, it’s easy to understand why that might be the case. Essentially, he is an adventurous passer.
Of his 56.7 passes per game, 49.6% of them were played forward. That proportion was the third highest among defenders usually deployed at centre-back (minimum 1,000 minutes played), while his frequency of 22.3 forward passes per game was similar to that of Manchester United defender Lisandro Martínez (22.5), who was widely praised for his progressive mindset.
But a strength that might look a little more obvious to the naked eye is Koch’s aerial ability. Only six defenders made more headed clearances (78) and he ranked fifth among all Premier League players for aerial duels won (111). The man positioned one place above him, Fabian Schär, could end up being a teammate.
Newcastle are the team being most strongly linked with Koch, who would apparently cost about £20m, as they prepare to bolster the squad ahead of a return to the Champions League. He’d suit their direct style, both in terms of getting the ball forward quickly and being a threat in the box, as Howe’s side hadmore headed shots (107) than any other team this term.
Similarly, Fulham might also be a good fit. They ranked sixth for direct attacks (63) and second for headed goals (15), so Koch could potentially slot in well to the physically imposing arsenal assembled by Marco Silva at Craven Cottage.