Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Leeds United have something of a problem with injuries on the defence.
Luke Ayling, Gaetano Berardi, and Tom Pearce are all out injured, and now it seems that Liam Cooper is set to miss an extended period of time as well, with only the length of the absence yet to be determined, but it sounds like it will be at least a month.
More tests on Liam Cooper today as Leeds United wait to see how far his absence will extend into the new year:https://t.co/3uQGNKBzKN— Phil Hay (@PhilHayYEP) December 4, 2018
Cooper and the club have consulted with additional specialists in order to determine the extent of the damage that has been done to Cooper’s knee, but right now it appears he’ll be out for at least the Christmas period, which leaves Leeds in a pretty significant bind.
Right now, Leeds have Pontus Jansson as the only fit recognized senior central defender on the roster. They also have Academy youngster Aapo Halme, and he’s come in and played well enough for the past few matches, but it doesn’t appear that he’ll be a long-term solution at the position.
Marcelo Bielsa has faith that Kalvin Phillips can play as a central defender in a back three or even as a CB in a back four formation, but he’s not an experienced player at the back, and it also takes him out of midfield. Adam Forshaw can play in front of a back four or a back three, but he hasn’t been as good at defensive midfielder position as Phillips has this year.
Even if Ayling comes back and takes up a role as one of the central defender positions, it would still leave Leeds short at fullback, as Ayling is one of the best, if not the best, right back in the Championship. He’s flourished this season offensively, and has still been able to get back and defend as well. Last season, under Thomas Christiansen, Ayling would often be caught out of position trying to go for a late goal. However, under Bielsa, Ayling hasn’t been caught out because of the fluidity of Bielsa’s formation has meant that there has always been a play who has shifted over to cover the space that had been left by Ayling, at least until Ayling was able to get back in position.
Berardi’s injury is more long-term, and he’s not due back anytime soon, which means that even when Cooper and Ayling are fit, there will once again not be any cover at either the right back or centre back positions. Leeds need at least another centre back with more experience than Halme, even if he’s played brilliantly so far. Perhaps the club could recall Paudie O’Connor from his loan at Blackpool FC, but either way, some cover is desperately needed in the January transfer window.