Since joining from Bristol City, Luke Ayling has been one of Leeds United’s most consistent performers, playing well over 150 games in less than five seasons at the club.
And under Marcelo Bielsa, the 29-year-old has been a beacon of reliability, figuring week-in and week-out for the Whites. This season has seen him split his game-time at both right-back and centre-back, and on Wednesday night against West Brom, he was once again used in the middle.
Bielsa’s side ran riot at the Hawthorns, racing to a four-goal lead at half-time, before a Raphina strike mid-way through the second-half put the icing on the cake of an emphatic 5-0 win away from home in the Premier League.
And whilst the Baggies hardly laid a glove on the visitors, there’s no questioning that Ayling looked absolutely supreme at the heart of defence, boasting a superb reading of the game and coolness in possession.
As per Sofascore, he had 133 touches of the ball and made a whopping 109 passes too – both of which were team-highs. Added to that, he also won all eight of his duels on the night (four on the ground and four in the air), and completed nine of his 15 attempted long balls.
His rapid progress under Bielsa has been something to behold, and a couple of Leeds fans on Twitter seemed to think so too, with one hailing his development over the past couple of years, and describing him as a “top-level” centre-back now.
I think that the player development of Luke Ayling over the past 2 and a half years might be the best I’ve ever seen.
He’s genuinely a top level CB now and he seems to get better and better with every game. #LUFC
— Calum Archibald (@calumarchie) December 29, 2020
Absolutely everyone good tonight but I have to say that Luke Ayling has once again found another level beyond the level he found the other ten times he seemingly found a new level. Now he’s also our Captain, defensive linchpin & apparently a ball carrying midfielder? #lufc
— Tommy (@tommy_lufc) December 29, 2020
Bielsa’s long and illustrious career has seen him work with some of the world’s best talents, but his coaching at Elland Road and improving Ayling in particular has been nothing short of fantastic.
Capable of playing in a back-four or a back-three, or as a full-back or as a centre-back, Ayling just seamlessly adapts to whatever his manager demands of him, and has been a consistently impressive presence for the Whites.
They may have missed out on Ben White in the summer, but Ayling is showing that they don’t really miss him at all.
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