Marcelo Bielsa will face some of his toughest dilemmas as Leeds United manager over the next few weeks, according to one pundit.
Bielsa has done a very good job since becoming Leeds manager in 2018. Currently overseeing their first season back in the Premier League since 2003-04, the Argentine coach has guided them to mid-table. They have crucially already passed the 40-point mark.
The way in which Bielsa has steered the club to such a comfortable position is all the more impressive when considering he has rarely had a fully-fit squad to work with.
Specifically, Leeds invested heavily in their defence in the summer. Robin Koch and Diego Llorente arrived for decent sums to replace Ben White after the latter’s loan from Brighton ended.
However, both Koch and Llorente have struggled for fitness throughout the season. The German missed 18 games with a knee injury between December and March, whereas the Spaniard has had a number of setbacks that have forced him to miss 19 matches.
Both are back in contention now, though. Llorente started alongside Liam Cooper for their most recent fixture, a win over Sheffield United, while Koch came on from the bench.
Their return, along with the reliance on club captain Cooper, meant Pascal Struijk had to sit the game out despite his impressive form in their absence.
Struijk is on the verge of an international breakthrough thanks to the way he has performed in recent weeks. But now, Bielsa will have to think hard about how to keep him in the team at club level.
This plethora of options is giving Bielsa a serious dilemma, according to ex-Leeds forward Noel Whelan.
“In a way, this is the toughest time Bielsa’s had for centre-halves because they’re all fit for once,” Whelan told Football Insider.
“That’s the dilemma now. We’ve got good centre-halves to choose from. It’s so difficult to keep them all happy.
“We’ve only got the eight games left. So what does he do? We know that when it comes to shoring games up, Robin Koch is generally the one who comes in.
“There’s a real competition for places there which is healthy on the one hand. Three of these four players are going to be at the Euros and need match fitness.”
Bielsa explains defensive decisions
After the game against Sheffield United, Bielsa explained why he had made the difficult decision to leave Struijk out.
“Pascal played very well against Chelsea and Fulham,” he explained. “In the training this week I saw Cooper was at his best.
“Cooper is the type of player who doesn’t lose his sharpness even if he can’t train for one or two weeks. When we confirmed that he was still in this manner, I opted for him.
“The two games Pascal played would have also made him deserving of continuing.
“All the centre-backs have had the chance to play. Koch then Llorente, Cooper and Pascal. [Luke] Ayling when he had to play there, even at one point [Kalvin] Phillips.
“All of them had a very good level. In a season so long, the three most defensive positions, the two centre-backs and defensive midfielder, good to be able to count on five players. Also considering Pascal, Koch and Llorente can play as defensive midfielders.”
So far, it is Cooper who has started the most league games for Leeds this season, with 22. Struijk has made 19 appearances, with 17 starts; Koch has started 11 times out of 13 appearances; and Llorente has made seven starts and one substitute appearance.
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