Gjanni Alioski injury further tests Marcelo Bielsa's small Leeds United squad but Arsenal returns for Kalvin Phillips and Rodrigo would make a big difference

Leeds United have an injury concern over Ezgjan Alioski after the winger was sent home early from international duty with a “swollen hamstring”.

INJURY: Leeds United winger Ezgjan Alioski picked up a hamstring problem with North Macedonia

The 28-year-old was part of the North Macedonia side which made history on Thursday by qualifying for their first European Championships with a play-off victory over Georgia. He played the full 90 minutes.

Alioski was already due to miss Sunday's Nations League match against Cyprus through suspension, but was sent home after being unable to complete a training session the previous day. It means he will not feature against Armenia on Wednesday, and must make him a doubt for Leeds's return to Premier League action at the weekend.

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All Premier League squads are under pressure at the moment, with the congested fixture list leading to a build-up of injuries and unsuccessful calls from the bigger clubs to allow five substitutes in line with all other major European leagues.

Although Leeds do not have the regular midweek football the elite clubs are playing in Europe their small squad nevertheless makes them more vulnerable than some. Their cause will be helped considerably if Kalvin Phillips is able to return from a shoulder injury against the Gunners as he hopes. If so, it will make a side which has conceded four goals in each of its last two matches look far more secure.

Only Wolverhampton Wanderers have a smaller squad list of senior players in this season's Premier League, although the rosters are deceptive because they do not include under-21s, such as Leeds's first-choice goalkeeper Illan Meslier, Pascal Struijk and Ian Poveda.

Coach Marcelo Bielsa prefers to work with a tighter group of players and rely on their high versatility. Thus, after loaning Barry Douglas to Blackburn Rovers for the season, the Whites do not have a senior specialist left-back. Stuart Dallas usually fills that role, but with Phillips missing with a shoulder injury picked up against Wolves last month, playmaker Pablo Hernandez dropped at Crystal Palace and Rodrigo missing with coronavirus, the Northern Irishman has been needed in midfield.

As a result, Alioski has played two of the last three matches at left-back.

Leeds are better covered in Alioski's preferred position, with Raphinha's recent performances from the bench challenging the established wing pair of Helder Costa and Jack Harrison.

Robin Koch's adaptability was highlighted on Saturday when Germany manager Joachim Low experimented with him as a holding midfielder in their 3-1 win over Ukraine. “He did a good job,” was Low's verdict.

But with Koch the only fixture in Leeds's defence in the early part of the season – Luke Ayling has also been an ever-present but is another who has changed positions – the summer signing is needed more there at the moment as the Whites look to tighten up defensively after chastening defeats to Leicester City and Palace.

Rodrigo will have completed his mandatory self-isolation and Leeds will hope he is sufficiently recovered from his illness to take on the Gunners, particularly if the apparent fall-out between Bielsa and Hernandez – left out of the matchday squad completely at Selhurst Park – has not yet been healed.

It was assumed the Spaniard was signed to play as a centre-forward but just as Patrick Bamford has confounded expectations as the No 9, so Rodrigo has been a surprise success story in an attacking central midfield position.

Bielsa has shown in the past, however, he will only consider those who meet his high fitness demands, which are essential to his intense brand of football.

Meanwhile, Sheffield United will be hopeful left wing-back Enda Stevens recovers from a knee injury to declare himself fit for Sunday's Premier League game against West Ham United.

The defender was pulled out of the Republic of Ireland's three November internationals with what manager Stephen Kenny described as “a slight knock” picked up in the 4-1 defeat to Chelsea.

Stevens has been redeployed as a left-sided central defender as the Blades seek to make light of the potentially season-long absence of Jack O'Connell.

Central defender John Egan missed Sunday's Nations League defeat to Wales with concussion picked up in the friendly against England, but providing there are no ill-effects, it looks optimistic he should be available against the Hammers.

The Blades are bottom of the Premier League with only one point from their opening eight games, and desperately need Sunday's match at Bramall Lane to be a kick-start to their season.

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