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Leeds Season Ratings - The Defenders

Our second look at how the players performed individually this season

Leeds United v Swansea City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by George Wood/Getty Images

The implementation of Marcelo Bielsa’s football at Elland Road not only made a huge difference to the quality of the football being played by Leeds United in attack, the defence had a massive improvement on previous seasons.

Time to look at each of these defenders and see how they individually fared this season.

For a similar article on Leeds Goalkeepers this season, click here.

Luke Ayling

Under consideration for the best right-back in the division at the start of the season and will remain in the conversation next season despite a slightly up and down year. Very effective going forward at times particularly with the license Bielsa gives his fullbacks to push forward and provide overloads on the wings. Ended up with 2 goals and 6 assists which are very solid numbers from right-back. Received 4 yellow cards which is low for a defender but did receive one Red Card for a needless 94th minute foul against Brentford at Elland Road at the start of October. Had a very noticeable drop off in his form following this red card and he didn’t really look like himself again until February. Filled in a few times as a centre-back in both a back 3 and a back 4 but never looked comfortable in the role. A decent season overall but is capable of far better.

Season Highlight: Terrific performance featuring a goal and an assist in the 3-2 win over Millwall.

Season Lowlight: Total abandonment of defensive responsibility with Leeds down to 10 men against Derby in the playoff Semi-final. Ran forward 40 yards and lost the ball and Derby scored the winner from that error.

Overall Rating for season: 7/10

Derby County v Leeds United - Sky Bet Championship Play-off Semi Final: First Leg Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

Pontus Jansson

On his day, for my money, the best centre-back in the division. However, there have been a few more consistent than him if you were looking for a criticism.

The Sweden international definitely improved overall on last season and formed a formidable defensive partnership with club captain Liam Cooper. Looked more mature this season (although far from perfect in this regard) and picking up only 6 yellows and 1 Red Card (away at Stoke, was harsh) shows an adaptation that will stand him in good stead going forward. Managed to pop up with 3 goals and an assist too which is a useful contribution from CB.

At his best he looked far too good for his opponents. Jansson was already an accomplished passer of the ball from centre-back and very comfortable in possession so his transition into “Bielsaball” was one of the more comfortable. There remains no doubt in my mind that Marcelo Bielsa’s decision not to start Jansson in the horrorshow against Derby County, and then not bring him off the bench when Leeds were falling apart, is his biggest management error of the season.

Season Highlight: Powerful header to bring Leeds level at Villa Park.

Season Lowlight: Really poor performance at Griffin Park in the 2-0 defeat to Brentford, completely outplayed by Neal Maupay.

Overall Rating for season: 8/10

Leeds United v Brentford - Sky Bet Championship Photo by George Wood/Getty Images

Liam Cooper

The Captain would be in a straight fight for most improved player with Kalvin Phillips, and it is Cooper’s improvement that was the most surprising to the Leeds fanbase. A tremendous season where he looked the equal of Jansson for long stretches, but a few really key errors in key matches drop him below the level of Jansson, although the expectations for him are also lower.

Started the season with a tremendous performance in the opening day win over Stoke City, getting on the scoresheet, and up until going off injured at Bramall Lane in the 1-0 win at Sheffield United he was a serious contender for Leeds’ player of the season having defended excellently throughout and scored 3 goals for the cause too.

Derby County v Leeds United - Sky Bet Championship Play-off Semi Final: First Leg Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

Unfortunately, in the second half of the season following his return from injury he wasn’t as consistent - high profile errors and a few below-par performances really hurt Leeds’ promotion chances, particularly against Sheffield United and Derby County. Still a good season though and much better than many thought he was capable of.

Season Highlight: Leeds’ 3rd goal on the opening day against Stoke City. Stoke had pulled one back and had their tails up but the Cooper goal gave Leeds the confidence to see out the game comfortably.

Season Lowlight: Another lowlight from the awful playoff semi final. Both his part in the mixup for Jack Marriott’s first goal and his incredibly naive pull of the shirt to gift Derby a penalty for Harry Wilson’s goal.

Overall Rating for season: 8/10

Gaetano Berardi

Used as a centre-back for the majority of his performances and initially was very impressive in the role. So much so than Pontus Jansson was left on the bench for a couple of matches early on. Seemed to have more control over his decision making before his season was derailed by a nasty injury. When in the side he passed the ball out from defence well and for the most part looked every bit a Championship centre-back (if you had shrunk a centre-back in the wash).

Following the injury he was on the bench for the most part. Played really well in the 1st Leg against Derby leading to Marcelo Bielsa keeping him in the side ahead of Jansson for the second leg. One ridiculous tackle and a red card later and suddenly we are left wondering about his future at the club despite being much better than you would expect over the whole season.

Season Highlight: Although he had better games, watching his commitment in an aerial battle against Peter Crouch on the opening day of the season was really impressive.

Season Lowlight: Fourth defender down and the 3rd with a season lowlight from the Derby 2nd leg, no wonder we lost eh? Ridiculous decision to dive in with both feet off the ground and get sent off. The latest of a number of ridiculous decisions like that over the last 5 seasons.

Overall Rating for season: 6.5/10

Barry Douglas

Much like Ayling, in the conversation for the best in his position for the division before the season started. Didn’t hit the heights Leeds fans were expecting following his incredible 2017/18 campaign for Wolverhampton Wanderers in their Championship winning season.

No goals which is a surprise given his previous set piece prowess and the way Leeds fullbacks get into the opposition penalty area. His total of 5 assists in 27 matches (21 starts) is fine but he would probably have expected more.

One of many to have an injury hit campaign which won’t have helped his performances. He seemed to be too easily beaten by wingers with any pace whatsoever and that is an area that needs improvement next season. Hopefully with a full pre-season he can rediscover his form because he could be a vital player next season, at his best he could be perfect for our system.

Barry Douglas strengths and weaknesses via

Season Highlight: Showed his commitment by playing on with a knee injury that would end his season and still providing a wonderful cross for Luke Ayling to bring Leeds level at home to Millwall.

Season Lowlight: Very poor play to give away a late penalty against Reading at Elland Road, was rescued by Bailey Peacock-Farrell

Overall Rating for season: 6/10

Stuart Dallas

Definitely a midfielder but a comfortable majority of his starts this season have been at full-back. Dallas has been the definition of a squad player this season. When fit he has been plugging holes in the Leeds side as Leeds’ thin squad pushed for promotion and for the most part he has done a good job. Had a few shocking performances when first asked to start at full-back early in the season but has got more used to the role and now has also been playing there for Northern Ireland. Got better as the season went on - which should bode well for next season.

Season Highlight: The only player who can call their performance in the game I shan’t name again a highlight. 2 goals and forced a couple of other good saves. Tried his best to drag a team performing poorly to Wembley almost single-handedly.

Season Lowlight: West Brom away - not only didn’t look like a full-back, barely looked like a footballer.

Overall Rating for season: 6.5/10

Aapo Halme

One start and three substitute appearances in the League, and a start against Queens Park Rangers in the FA Cup is more of the Finland youth international than we would have expected to see before the season started.

Queens Park Rangers v Leeds United - FA Cup Third Round Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Stepped up well in the absence of more experienced players and always looked like he was up to playing at this level. Used his height well to dominate opposition strikers in the air and got his first goal for the club in the aforementioned FA Cup tie. Didn’t have the best end to the season in the u23s and judging by the Leeds bench during the play-offs he has dropped behind Pascal Struijk in the pecking order.

Overall Rating for season: 7/10

Leif Davis

Thrust into the spotlight as a late replacement for the ill Barry Douglas away at Aston Villa and another who, much like Halme, didn’t look phased by first team football. Made four substitute appearances after that and played well in the u23s. Unfortunately missed the end of the season through injury.

Overall Rating for season: 7/10

Aston Villa v Leeds United - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

Tom Pearce

Very disappointing season for a player I have a high opinion of, and who did very well at the end of the 2017/18 season. Two starts in the League Cup - 6/10 against Bolton, 5/10 against Preston. Did fine in substitute appearances against Ipswich and Nottingham Forest in the League, despite being subbed off having come on as a sub against Forest (he came on after 25mins so no indication of performance). The same cannot be said of his performance against QPR in the FA Cup where he came on at HT and was taken off 30mins later. Went out on loan to Scunthorpe United and local paper the Grimsby Telegraph gave him a 5/10 for his performances this season. I expect him to be moved on during the summer.

Overall Rating for season: 4.5/10

Clarke Oduor - Excellent progress in the u23s and made a senior debut in the FA Cup, playing the last 10mins against QPR. Which makes it a very successful season. Seems comfortable at left-back or on the wing and even played in central midfield for the u23s briefly. Putting him in with the defenders though.

Overall Rating for season: 7.5/10

Kalvin Phillips and Ezgjan Alioski Played a lot of football in defence this season, but will be covered in the midfielders.

Overall Leeds had the 2nd lowest Expected Goals against in the Championship, and won the highest number of defensive duels in the division, which is a great base to build on for next season.