Is new Leeds defender Junior Firpo worth the extra money over Luke Ayling in FPL? |

Following the departute of Gjanni Alioski, Leeds moved quickly to announce the signing of left-back Junior Firpo on July 6.

The defender was soon priced up at £5.0m in Fantasy Premier League (FPL), half a million more expensive than any other defender on the Whites’ roster.

Firpo has signed a four-year contract at Elland Road and will wear the number three shirt, having moved from Barcelona in a reported £12.8m deal.

We assess the defender’s history, qualities and FPL potential below.

The History

Born in the Dominican Republic, Firpo moved to Spain at the age of six and got his first chance in football with Real Betis.

The left-back made his first-team debut for the Spanish club in February 2018, before going on to become a regular in the side for the 2018/19 season.

Part of the European Championship-winning Spain under-21 squad at the end of that campaign, Firpo was then acquired by Barcelona in August 2019.

He made just 41 appearances for the Nou Camp outfit in all competitions over two seasons, beginning only three league matches during the previous campaign.

Playing style

Firpo regards himself as a good fit for Marcelo Bielsa’s full-throttle style of play.

“I saw him [Marcelo Bielsa] in Spain when he trained there. I know the coach that he is and for me he is a really good coach. He wants to press all the time, play one against one many times and for me that’s my football.

“Physical football, running, having the ball, for me it’s not a problem and I think he will help me go to another level. I think in this team I can show the player that I am, for me I hope I can show the people what I want to show.” – Junior Firpo

The defender, thought of as an attack-minded player, could offer Leeds another goal threat from their left-hand side.

Spanish football expert Guillem Balague told the Yorkshire Evening Post of Firpo:

When he was at Betis he looked like a very happy, brave full-back who went forward very often, in a team who were playing three at the back. It really suited him. He defended decently but attacked much better.

What he has is a free spirit, in a way. He is better offensively than defensively. He has to develop more discipline. When he defends he makes mistakes which are basic, body positioning at times, how he reacts to losing the ball, which can be corrected.

He drives with the ball very well, he’s better at driving with the ball than trying to attack teams who are defending compact. He does it all the time, he insists and insists, so he’s got a good mentality.

ESPN UK editor David Cartlidge told the newspaper:

From a system point of view he works, because of how Leeds play with their full-backs. Junior has the speed and fitness levels to cover the entire flank, press high, combine with attackers. He’s going to be especially influential on the break.

If he recaptures the spirit with which he played at Betis with then he’ll be a huge success. That’s the first task, getting him in that mood again.

The Statistics

In his breakout 2018/19 season at Betis, Firpo scored three times and registered five assists in 29 appearances.

Across that campaign, Firpo averaged 0.88 shots per 90 minutes. That’s not quite Marco Alonso (£5.5m) levels – the Chelsea man averaged 1.97 shots per 90 minutes in 2020/21 – but it wasn’t bettered by any Leeds defender bar the ‘out of position’ Stuart Dallas (£5.5m) in the season just gone.

Firpo also created 0.88 chances per 90 minutes in 2018/19.

His limited playing time for Barcelona in La Liga saw him return two goals and two assists across two seasons.

Smarterscout’s Dan Altman said of the defender:

As a left-back at Barcelona in 2019/20, Junior Firpo was prolific in trying to disrupt moves by the opposition but his lack of skill as a tackler made him somewhat ineffective in doing so. He also didn’t recover many balls, so his overall defending stats were middling at a Premier League standard. While his skill in aerial duels in open play was pretty good for La Liga, he might find the aerial game more challenging in England – especially on dead balls, where he was much less effective.

The Prospects

With Alioski now gone from Elland Road, the left-back spot appears to be Firpo’s for the taking so game time shouldn’t be an issue, though a wait-and-see approach is the safer route in that regard.

The big question is whether or not the ex-Betis man is worth the extra £0.5m over his colleagues, in particular Luke Ayling (£4.5m).

The right-back was the league’s most underperforming defender in terms of ‘expected goal involvement’ (xGI) last season. Ayling was expected to be involved in 4.90 goals and assists, though came out of the campaign with no attacking returns.

Ayling carded 0.61 shots and 0.68 key passes per 90 minutes in 2020/21, averages inferior to Firpo, with the summer signing’s stats actually very similar to those of Alioski (0.88 shots and 0.98 key passes per 90).

The departing North Macedonia international carded two goals and three assists for the Whites in 2020/21, which is perhaps a good gauge for what we can expect of the new signing.

While Firpo can be expected to nail down the somewhat vacant left-back spot, the ever-present Ayling is also a guaranteed starter under Marcelo Bielsa.

Leeds’ opening fixture list puts them at the bottom of the FFS Season Ticker when sorted by defence. That includes clashes with Manchester United (a), Liverpool (H) and West Ham (H), interspersed with a home fixture against Everton and trips to both Burnley and Newcastle.

While Ayling is a viable rotation option in defence, Firpo would likely need to be in your first XI at £5.0m. The Whites’ fixture list clears up hugely in Gameweek 7, which could be a good time to revisit the Spanish left-back.

LEARN MORE: Luke Ayling’s Player Profile
LEARN MORE: Leeds United’s Team Profile

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