Leeds look likely to be without three first-choice central defenders once again for Tuesday’s game at West Brom after Diego Llorente’s latest injury setback.
Marcelo Bielsa was without skipper Liam Cooper, Robin Koch and Llorente for Sunday’s home win against Burnley. However, Leeds responded by keeping a rare clean sheet. After the game, Bielsa talked about the changes that Leeds made to earn their shut-out.
Summer signing Llorente had been expected to make his first home appearance for the club, but broke down in training after appearing to have recovered from a muscle strain.
“He had a setback on Wednesday and from there he hasn’t evolved,” Bielsa confirmed. “He stopped being an option for the game (on Saturday).”
Bielsa was unable to say last week when Cooper is expected to recover from an abdominal strain. Koch, however, is in rehab following knee surgery and won’t be considered for another four to six weeks.
Midfielder Kalvin Phillips was deployed in a back three against Burnley alongside Luke Ayling and Pascal Struijk.
That makeshift defence held firm under concerted second-half pressure from Burnley. Bielsa took heart from his side’s first clean sheet in five matches.
“Phillips is player with a big capacity to adapt to playing in different positions on the pitch,” Bielsa said.
“The times where he has had to play as a centre-back in a back-three, every time he has had good responses and played with authority and he did today as well.”
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Struijk set for a run in Leeds side
Versatile Dutchman Struijk also showed a cool head under Burnley’s bombardment in his first start since early November.
“Yes, he was very influential and he contributed a lot to our defensive stability in the middle,” Bielsa said.
Struijk looks likely to continue in defence on Tuesday at The Hawthorns. However, it remains to be seen whether that will be as part of a three or two-man central defence.
Leeds climbed three places to 12th after their sixth league win of the season and could finish the year in the top half of the table.
“Our objective was to compete on an even keel with all our opponents in the Premier League, but it’s not an easy task,” Bielsa added.
“For example, if you look at what happened at the end of the second half (against Burnley), in which we had to adapt to a situation which we hadn’t faced up until now.
“The result was in danger. Every game in the Premier League is a big challenge.”
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