Liam Cooper came into the season being reinstated as Leeds United’s captain by Thomas Christiansen, and it was assumed that he would become a regular starter at center back alongside Pontus Jansson once Kyle Bartley’s loan expired. He had last been the permanent captain for Leeds at the end of the 2014/15 season, when Stephen Warnock was sold in the winter transfer window. On August 10, Cooper signed 4 year deal that will keep him at Elland Road until the 2020/21 season, despite only playing in 11 games the previous year.
Liam Cooper started out the season playing quite well, and was a major part of Leeds’ defensive run of form, where they earned 6 straight clean sheets in August and September. However, despite being the team captain and the second best option at center back, Cooper only managed to make 30 starts for Leeds, missing games due to injury, suspension, general sloppiness.
That sloppiness reared its ugly head in Leeds’ 2-2 draw against Derby County, where Cooper’s and Laurens de Bock’s communication issues led to this horrendous goal. There are two major problems with this goal: Firstly and most obviously is the aforementioned communication. Cooper cuts in front of de Bock, who is also trying to head it away and appears to have a better angle on it, which leaves two Derby forwards completely free inside penalty area. When possible, these types of clearances should always be taken by the outside back, because even if de Bock had not gone for the ball, Cooper still would have left a massive gap between de Bock and Pontus Jansson. And of course, the second major issue is that Cooper’s clearance attempt goes backwards and falls directly into the path of Andreas Weimann, who easily puts it past Felix Wiedwald for the goal.
On the bright side, Cooper’s stats were actually pretty good for the year. He completed 77.1% of his passes, committed only 28 fouls in 30 matches, and only missed 7 of 50 attempted tackles, which was the best among Leeds defenders. He was just responsible for too many goals like the one against Derby that do not show up in the statistics.
Final Season Grade: C-
Cooper was asked to continue Leeds’ 2016/17 defensive form and to adequately replace Kyle Bartley at center back this season. Clearly, he was unable to accomplish these expectations and left something to be desired with his play. It should be noted though that he rarely was aided by his left back, and had to deal with a revolving door of Gaetano Berardi, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Vurnon Anita, and Laurens de Bock before Tom Pearce brought consistency and stability to the position at the end of the year. If Cooper is not sold in the upcoming summer months, he will be a decent bench option like he was in 2016/17, but for now he just has not shown that he can be a quality starter in the Championship.
What grade would you give Liam Cooper?
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