Leeds United: Ilia Gruev shines with 100% display for Bulgaria despite loss to Lithuania
It has been a quiet start to life at Leeds United for Ilia Gruev since he made the switch to Elland Road from Werder Bremen this summer.
The midfielder who cost the Whites £4 million [Daily Mail, 31 August] is yet to start a game for Daniel Farke’s side, making only three cameos from the bench as Ethan Ampadu, Glen Kamara and Archie Gray impress in the middle of the park.
During his first two months, Gruev has made just as many appearances for his national side, with his latest outing for Bulgaria coming in their 2-0 defeat to Lithuania in qualifying for Euro 2024 on Saturday (14 October).
Starting on the left side of a back three rather than his preferred central midfield role, the 23-year-old had his work cut out for him as Bulgaria were reduced to 10 men after 42 minutes, when Andrian Kraev was shown a second yellow card.
As Gruev’s side faced an uphill battle to get back into the game, the 23-year-old managed to still have a few positive moments to show his quality both in and out of possession, completing 88 per cent of his 57 attempted passes, including one key effort that created a chance for his in the opening 45 minutes [Sofascore].
Six of those were into the final third as well as five accurate long passes in the contest. Defensively he made five ball recoveries and won one ground duel as well as 100 per cent of his two aerial duels, an impressive feat given the Leeds United man is only just over six foot tall and not the most physically imposing centre-back.
Unfortunately, Gruev did pick up a yellow card midway through the second half and arguably should have done better as he skewed a header wide from a set-piece after only 20 minutes, but is hard to be too critical of his display given just how long Lithuania had a one-man advantage.
Given the immense competition for places in the middle of the park currently in Farke’s side, Gruev may find it easier to come by regular game time for Leeds United if he is willing to play in the backline as he has done with his national side.
Although playing at full-back requires a different skillset to playing in a back three, the 23-year-old could feature similarly to Gray and Shackleton who have both deputised on either side of Joe Rodon and Pascal Struijk and times this season.
In other Leeds United news, 71 per cent of fans believe that Farke will return the Whites to the Premier League this season