Such has been the impact he made in his first two Brazil appearances, in Venezuela and Colombia, Raphinha was expected to make his first international start at home to Uruguay in the early hours of this morning before returning to England.
With Leeds United kicking off their next Premier League game at St Mary’s Stadium at 3pm tomorrow, the in-form 24-year-old’s involvement therefore must be in doubt. To lose him would be a blow to a team already without Bamford, Koch and Luke Ayling and with a doubt over Kalvin Phillips, but coach Bielsa says he will take no risks with the winger.
“There’s no doubt there’s a short turnaround and the options he has to participate in the game on Saturday depend on whether he plays the final game, how many minutes he plays, how he finishes the game after he’s participated in it, how efficient the rest he can have in the next 36 hours is considering a third of those hours he’s going to spend flying,” said the former Argentina and Chile coach.
“If there’s any risk that fatigue could cause injury we won’t risk him.”
Bielsa spoke last month about the demands on elite players being too high, going so far as to call for the number of games to be cut and wages reduced accordingly. South American teams have been allowed to extend their international windows this season to clear the backlog caused in 2020-21, when clubs were allowed to prevent players travelling there because of the Covid-19 pandemic in countries such as Brazil, but it will have a knock-on effect for this weekend’s domestic programme across Europe.
The issue was dodged last month when in a game of brinkmanship between clubs and countries which went right to the wire, many Premier League sides including Leeds prevented their players from travelling to Brazil and other “red-listed” countries because of the quarantine regulations they faced on their return. They have since been eased by the Government.
Raphinha has scored three goals already in seven Premier League appearances this season for a team which has started sluggishly, victory at home to Watford in their previous outing their first three points of the campaign. Southampton are still to win.
He certainly enhanced his reputation in Brazil’s opening two World Cup qualifiers, involved in all three goals on his debut against Venezuela, which will hopefully help his club in the longer term even if they are deprived of him tomorrow.
“Football is a state of your mood but muscular tiredness affects your performance and it puts the players at risk of injury,” argued Bielsa.
If Raphinha does miss out tomorrow, Jack Harrison is fit to take his place having recovered from a minor problem which saw him go unused from the bench against Watford. Crysencio Summerville missed that game through illness but he too is back in contention.
Raphinha’s new international team-mate Fabinho said he “expected” the winger to join him at Liverpool when linked over the summer and although his agent, former Portugal forward Deco, says his client is happy at Elland Road, he does expect him to be sold on at some point.
“There are certainly several clubs that like him, and Liverpool do like him, there were surveys (in the summer), but nothing official,” he claimed. “Leeds wanted to keep him for another season.
“Raphinha is happy at Leeds and for sure the time will come to take the biggest leap in his career, to take a step forward. He has three more years of contract, but it is not the contract that defines the length of stay or prevents transfer. Leeds are aware (of the situation), they will want to make an important sale, and Raphinha will end up growing in his career.”
Meanwhile, Germany defender Koch has undergone a minor operation having not featured since the opening game of the season because of a pelvic problem.
“Koch is in the United States where he’s going to undergo a simple procedure to try and solve this problem in the pubis,” explained Bielsa.
Bamford was initially expected to be out for four weeks after injuring his ankle at Newcastle United on September 17 but with that timeframe now reached, Bielsa is hesitant to put a date on the striker’s return.
Phillips missed England’s World Cup qualifiers against Andorra and Hungary with a calf strain and will be assessed to see if he can play tomorrow, but Adam Forshaw is available.
With Ayling described as being at “the halfway stage of his recovery” from a knee problem also picked up in Newcastle, Jamie Shackleton may be asked to play right-back for a fourth consecutive match. Bielsa says this is an important phase in the 22-year-old’s development.
“It is very difficult to start games in the Premier League but those who achieve it immediately enter into a new challenge which is to play multiple games,” he said. “There are a lot of players who have played in the Premier League but not as many who have played multiple games, and Shackleton is in a process that is just starting.”