Raphinha, Raphinha, Raphinha, Brazil Brazil Brazil. You’d think Leeds United don’t have any other international footballers! But Illan Meslier won his fourth and fifth caps for France Under-21s this week, after a long wait for Nantes’ Alban Lafont to grow old. The Athletic’s goalkeeping expert has just done a 4,000 word analysis of Meslier, noting that he is 6ft 5in and has ‘very long arms’ as well as lots of stuff about his diving technique (‘in simple terms, a keeper’s way of manoeuvring his body to make a save’) that my poor tired brain couldn’t absorb. I skipped straight to the summary: ‘If he continues to enhance his game and eliminate some weaknesses, there is no limit to his ceiling or his potential.’ That’s great news!

It's a photo of Illan Meslier's young head
Photograph by Lee Brown

But how has he done on international duty this week? More to the point, what has he done? From time to time I remember that I keep forgetting to cancel a Wyscout subscription that was only supposed to be a trial period anyway, so I thought I’d have a look there. Illan played in two UEFA U21 Championship qualifiers in this break, a 5-0 win over Ukraine and a 3-0 defeat of Serbia. Over the two games, he faced one (1) shot, made one (1) save (from that one (1) shot), and took two (2) goal kicks (both short). He dealt with four (4) corners, all against Serbia, who tried to Antonio him for a couple, leaving him clutching his face with a free-kick won after the first.

The save was pretty good. That was also against Serbia, stopping a low shot from outside the area that was going inside or outside the post, Meslier wasn’t to know, so he dived and put it wide just before it bounced. Good job, Illan!

In search of other action, we can find one interception per match: kicking a Ukrainian goal-kick clear well before the forward got there, when there were three minutes left and France were 5-0 up, and in the 80th minute against Serbia, when a ball over the top was way ahead of the forward and rolled into Meslier’s hands. Passing? There was some passing. Two inaccurate long passes against Ukraine and one accurate out of three against Serbia, plus 14/17 completed short passes against Ukraine and 13/15 against Serbia. His teammates gave him the ball twelve times in the first game and eight in the second. Maybe they couldn’t see him looking bored.

I’ve run out of stats that don’t have a zero next to them now, and there’s not much to see in the rest of his Under-21 career. Five games, four saves, none ‘with reflexes’. It’s a living! And it’s a holiday compared to Leeds. In the Premier League this season he’s facing on average six shots a game, making four saves, three avec reflexes. Every game he’s doing six goal kicks, six long passes, 21 short ones. International Under-21s football is a breeze compared to that.

Flicking back to The Athletic’s analysis of his overall game, searching the text gets no results for ‘concentration’ or ‘boredom’ or ‘counting sheep’, because it focuses on his Leeds career and how Marcelo Bielsa has got him thrumming. So I’m no wiser about how Illan is occupying his mind during these international appearances. Does he long for Llorente, pinging passes at his knees across the six yard box? Did he relish the Serbian corners as a welcome reminder of West Ham’s jaw-looseners? While his teammates rattle in the goals up the other end, does he put that baritone voice to work singing Serge Gainsbourg hits to himself, chainsmoking away the ennui?

While we’re here, let’s also check how our new reserve goalie Kristoffer Klaesson did with Norway’s Under-21s this week. A 3-0 win over Estonia sounds good. One save with reflexes too, although looking at that clip, of him catching a slowly bouncing ball an Estonian forward flicked on into an empty penalty area, I’m wondering about Wyscout’s definition of reflexes. What about the 3-2 defeat to Croatia in the break’s first game, though? Well, he made a good point blank save with his foot, and a decent save from long distance, and a one-on-one challenge left him hopping on one foot and holding the other like Wile E. Coyote dropping an Acme anvil on himself. The goals? Uh, defence should have done better for the first, second was deflected and the third, um. A corner headed in at the front post? Defence should have done better! ⬢

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