As well as the Whites are playing right now, they have a relatively serious problem to fix. Captain Liam Cooper and Stuart Dallas both went down recently and will be out of action for around five more weeks. They will now join Gaetano Berardi, Luke Ayling, and Tom Pearce on the injured list, and there are a few roads that Leeds United and Marcelo Bielsa could take to address this problem.
More injury blows for Leeds United - Liam Cooper out for up to six weeks after knee surgery today. Stuart Dallas out for 4-6 weeks with a fractured foot. #lufc— Phil Hay (@PhilHayYEP) December 5, 2018
Option 1: Nothing at all
Leeds have been on fire of late, and their recent victory over QPR shows that they could simply try to withstand the next month with their present defensive options. Jamie Shackleton played well at wingback, and Kalvin Phillips has experience at center back (though he was largely at fault for the Rangers’ goal), and this pair could become the temporary starters for the next month.
However, this would be a dangerous game to play, as another injury could very well happen. Barry Douglas and Pontus Jansson have both already missed time this year, what if one of these two stalwarts misses more time? The backup plan would then fall to Finnish youth Aapo Halme, who is, at best, extremely inexperienced. However, Leeds will soon play Bolton, Hull, and Blackburn, which are not exactly offensive powerhouses. If they could survive their match against Aston Villa, the team would not necessarily needs a great defense for their remaining games.
Option 2: Call up a loanee
One place where Leeds have incredible defensive depth is actually within the group of loaned-out players. Lewie Coyle and Liam Kitching’s loans expire at the start of January, so they may very well have an opportunity to see the pitch with the first team. Paudie O’Connor has been a mess with Blackpool this year, but he has seen time at center back with the first team, so he could have his loan cut short and return to help fill in, which would allow Kalvin Phillips to return to his traditional defensive midfield role.
Additionally, Laurens de Bock has been decent for K.V. Oostende, though fans would surely have a panic attack just at the thought of his putting back on a Leeds kit. Tyler Denton is also an option at outside back, though he has been inconsistent throughout the season.
Option 3: Find a defender from another club
This is probably the least likely option, simply due to the fact that by the time the January transfer window opens, Ayling should be back, and Dallas and Berardi will be very close to a return. Marcelo Bielsa has even suggested that Leeds will not be active the window:
I don’t see the need to bring any other player in now. If it’s a player better than the one we have I would agree with the fact he comes, but I know how expensive that could be.
They could probably buy a solid starter from a tanking team in the Championship, like Joe Rodon or Mike van der Hoorn from Swansea, but that would quickly become difficult to manage when Leeds’ traditional starters begin to return. Additionally, any new player would have to adjust and adapt to Bielsa’s demanding formation and style of play, which takes a significant amount of time.
Realistically, it seems like Leeds will go with the first option, especially after Shackleton’s performance in the Queens Park match. It would be great to see one of the loaned-out players come back for a few matches though, because only having Aapo Halme to fall back on seems like a disaster waiting to happen.