West Ham United supporters certainly won’t be shy of football to keep track of this Saturday coming as all four professional teams – first-team, U23s, U18s and Women’s – kick off within three-and-a-half hours of one another!
After Olli Harder’s Women start things off at 11.30am against Aston Villa, and the U18s commence at 12pm at home to Leiceste City, Dmitri Halajko’s U23s development squad get their ball rolling at 1pm when they face Leeds United U23s at Thorp Arch Training Ground.
Here’s everything you need to know about the U23s’ next test…
The story so far
After the first international break of the season, Premier League 2 Division 1 returns to the top of the agenda for the young Hammers when they make one of their longest journeys of the season north to Leeds United and Thorp Arch Training Ground.
The development squad will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing showing in the Premier League Cup last week, when a much-changed side struggled to find an end product to match their substantial possession in a 1-0 group-stage loss at Wolverhampton Wanderers.
West Ham had been riding high after an impressive 2-1 win over Chelsea U23s the previous weekend at Rush Green, but fell to a difficult defeat at the Aggborough Stadium in Kidderminster in the opening game of Group F.
It should be noted, however, that the impressive win over a talented Chelsea side also came off the back of a defeat at Brighton & Hove Albion – and if there is one trait this group of young players consistently demonstrates, it is the character needed to bounce back.
Saturday’s game – albeit against tough opposition – presents an opportunity for the Hammers to do just that, and a positive result could potentially move them to the top of the Premier League 2 Division 1 table in the process.
West Ham currently sit third with six points, one point behind league leaders Manchester City – who host Chelsea on Saturday – and Brighton, who host Blackburn on Friday evening.
Once they reach West Yorkshire, however, West Ham’s U23s will come up against a Leeds United team who dominated Division 2 of development football last season.
Having been awarded Category One Academy status by the Premier League in the summer of 2020, the Lilywhites duly set about winning the second tier of Premier League 2 by a margin of eleven points in their debut season, a record made all the more impressive by a run of 12 wins from their last 14 games.
Former professional midfielder Mark Jackson – himself a Leeds academy graduate – coaches the Yorkshire club’s U23s, having previously led their U15s/U16s and U18s groups, and achieved their impressive promotion in his first season as an U23s manager.
Much like their first team, Leeds play an energetic, entertaining and attacking brand of football, with two high-scoring away wins on the bounce thus far – 3-1 at Crystal Palace, their fellow promoted team, and 3-2 at Derby County – falling either side of a surprise 4-2 defeat at home to Tottenham Hotspur.
Their last match was a 2-1 defeat at home to Wigan Athletic in the Premier League Cup on Wednesday evening but, with 12 players missing on international duty, Jackson’s team scarcely represented his regular league selection.
Given their domination of Premier League 2 Division 2 last season, it will come as little surprise that many of their attacking talents have won widespread plaudits, but it is perhaps 19-year-old centre-back and captain Charlie Cresswell, a Premier League 2 Player of the Season nominee, who may be next to see first-team action.
The son of former Preston and Sheffield United defender Richard, Cresswell not only recently penned a new contract with Leeds, but also received his first England U21s call-up last month.
Another Premier League 2 Player of the Year nominee, Sam Greenwood is a striker to watch out for, having netted 12 goals in 18 games last season. He has started this season with two in three – a record shared by fellow hot prospect forward Crysencio Summerville, a 19-year-old Dutch youth international winger.
Joe Gelhardt is another standout name; having scored eleven goals in 16 league games last season, the forward also bagged a hat-trick on his England U20s debut in a 6-1 win over Romania earlier this week, featuring in the squad alongside teammates Cody Drameh, Lewis Bate and Greenwood.
All of the above names will hope to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Kalvin Phillips, Jamie Shackleton, Robbie Gotts and Oliver Casey by going on to feature for Marcelo Bielsa’s first team this season.
What they’re saying
West Ham United U23s lead coach Dmitri Halajko: “Our lads had a weekend off in the international break, which is not a normal thing they would get, so hopefully that’s been a time to relax and recharge.
“This week has been the time to work hard, get on the training pitch and get ready for Leeds United, because our opponents will bring really high intensity and be a really tough team to play against.
“I think they’ll be up there this season – I think they’ll finish in the top three in the league – because they’ve got some good players, have spent quite a lot of money on their squad and drop seniors in it quite a lot as well.
“I can see it being one of the toughest tests of the season.”
How can I follow?
West Ham United U23s’ match against Leeds United U23s will be played behind-closed-doors at Thorp Arch Training Ground on Saturday 11 September, kicking off at 1pm.
You can still follow proceedings, however, with our live blog on whufc.com from 12.30pm. There will also be post-match reaction and highlights pieces available from Yorkshire over the course of Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning.