Leeds United’s ‘project’ gains further England recognition to delight of Marcelo Bielsa

Patrick Bamford is “very unfortunate” to miss out on a first England call-up in the eyes of manager Gareth Southgate, but Marcelo Bielsa sees the fact he and Luke Ayling were even in the conversation as a sign Leeds United are getting things right off the field.

CLOSE CALL-UP: Leeds United's Luke Ayling is on the fringes of the England squad,says Gareth Souhgate. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Despite rumours Bamford and Ayling might both be involved, Kalvin Phillips was the Whites’ only representative in the Three Lions squad for this month’s World Cup qualifiers at home to San Marino and Poland, and away to Albania. They are England’s final competitive games before this summer’s delayed European Championships, where they will be one of the favourites after a strong qualifying campaign and with most of their games likely to be at Wembley.

Southgate preferred Aston Villa’s Ollie Watkins at centre-forward, but hinted an injury could open the door to Bamford to join a squad which welcomes Jesse Lingard, Luke Shaw and Barnsley-born John Stones back into the fold.

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“Both Ollie and Patrick’s goals records have been good,” said Southgate. “We like the personalities of both.

PICK AND CHOOSE: England manager Gareth Southgate . Picture: Ian Walton/PA

“We like Ollie’s pressing, speed and runs in behind. For his first season in the Premier League at a big club, he’s done exceptionally well.

“Patrick is very unfortunate and who knows we could be sitting here in a few days time and we have a problem. Patrick is a player that we’re very much looking at as well.”

Bamford, currently nursing a hip problem not expected to keep him out of tonight’s game at Fulham, is the third highest-scoring Englishman in this season’s Premier League behind Harry Kane and Sheffielder Dominic Calvert-Lewin with 13 goals, three more than Watkins.

Tammy Abraham, Danny Ings and Callum Wilson are all injured and Jamie Vardy has retired from international football.

IN THE PICTURE: Leeds United striker Patrick Bamford is close to an England call-up. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

In the eyes of former Argentina and Chile coach Bielsa, just for Bamford and Ayling to be part considered is a tribute to their club.

“It’s a recognition first of all for the players and secondly for the club’s project and the structure of the squad to compete in the Premier League,” he said. “It’s a project that’s been developed by the chairman (Andrea Radrizzani), the sporting director (Victor Orta) and the technical staff.

“Competing in the Premier League opens up possibilities to people.

“It shows the plan the club made and hoped for was the right one.”

GOING SOLO: Midfielder Kalvin Phillips is the only Leeds United representative in the England squad. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Such is the competition amongst right-sided defenders that Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold has been dropped, so there is no shame Ayling not making it but he does have the advantage over many of his rivals in that he has shown himself to be adept as a central defender in either a three or a four for Leeds.

Like Bamford, he has started every Premier League game this season, substituted only once.

“He’s one of the players that has shone the most in our team,” said Bielsa, at great pains to stress he did not want to pick Southgate’s squad for him. “He’s a player that can play out wide or in the centre, in a back four or a back three with the capacity to attack and a good aerial game. He has good management of the ball in terms of combination and first pass.”

The 29-year-old has effectively missed out to another Sheffielder Kyle Walker. For a while it looked like Walker and his Manchester City team-mate Stones had been jettisoned after crucial errors in the 2019 Nations League semi-final but Walker won his place back at the start of this season and now Stones has too, after working back up the Eastlands pecking order by forming an incredibly impressive central defensive partnership with Ruben Dias.

PROUD: Leeds United head coach, Marcelo Bielsa. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Lingard has also not played for England since 2019, rewarded for four goals in six matches on loan with West Ham United, whilst Shaw, who last played in 2018, has been a consistent performer on the left side of Manchester United’s defence all season.

Phillips, a holding midfielder comfortable in a back three, has won his first four England caps this season and is preferred to Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Winks.

Borussia Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham is included despite concerns he may have to quarantine for a further 14 days on his return.

With the South American countries postponing their March qualifiers and therefore no possibility of a first Brazil call-up for Raphinha, no Leeds player is expected to be faced with this issue.

England squad: Dean Henderson (Manchester United), Sam Johnstone (West Bromwich Albion), Nick Pope (Burnley); Ben Chilwell (Chelsea), Conor Coady (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Eric Dier (Tottenham Hotspur), Reece James (Chelsea), Harry Maguire (Man Utd), Tyrone Mings (Aston Villa), Luke Shaw (Man Utd), John Stones (Manchester City), Kieran Trippier (Atletico Madrid), Kyle Walker (Man City); Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund), Phil Foden (Man City), Jesse Lingard (West Ham United, loan from Man Utd), Mason Mount (Chelsea), Kalvin Phillips (Leeds United), Declan Rice (West Ham United), James Ward-Prowse (Southampton); Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton), Harry Kane (Tottenham), Marcus Rashford (Man Utd), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Raheem Sterling (Man City), Ollie Watkins (Aston Villa).

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