Leeds United’s crippling injury crisis may show no immediate signs of abating, though they can at least soon welcome a squad defender back to their matchday ranks.
Marcelo Bielsa’s side have found the going tough during their second season back in the Premier League. Currently 16th, they have won just three times all season and have leaked 11 goals in their past two games. There are mitigating circumstances, however, given their current injury issues.
Indeed, having been without Patrick Bamford for much of the season, they have missed his influence and goals in attack. Currently joined by Rodrigo and Daniel James, their absentee list remains a concern going into the festive programme.
Also on the sidelines are talismanic midfielder Kalvin Phillips. He faces another eight weeks on the sidelines having undergone surgery on a hamstring injury.
That’s an injury that has also sidelined captain Liam Cooper, while Pascal Struijk (foot), Diego Llorente (Covid), Charlie Cresswell (shoulder) and Junior Firpo (ban) also missed out against Arsenal.
Indeed, it’s defensively where Leeds have certainly struggled the most. Right-back Luke Ayling – a recent injury returnee himself – has operated at the heart of defence in the last two games. And against the Gunners, Leeds were forced to hurry through Robin Koch’s return with the German starting his first game since August.
Another man whose absence has perhaps gone unnoticed, however, is Leo Hjelde. The summer signing from Celtic has been a regular fixture for their Under-23s this season, making a big impression.
That progress has earned recognition with Bielsa; the Leeds boss often calling him into their matchday squads.
However, having hurt his calf, he’s been missing for the past few weeks.
That though has finally eased enough for Hjelde to make a much-welcome return to training.
And following the Under-23s 0-0 draw with Everton on Monday, coach Mark Jackson confirmed Hjelde and attacker Amari Miller’s return to action.
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“They’ve been out for a little while now,” Jackson told the Yorkshire Evening Post.
“Leo hurt his calf against Man City but he is due to return to training tomorrow [Tuesday]. Amari is the same. He is just nursing a bit of a back injury.
“He had a bit of work done to that so he’s on the same timescale as Leo to return anytime. They’ll both return to training at some point this week and it’ll be a welcome boost to the club as a whole that we’re seeing some players come back.”
Jackson explains Jack Jenkins experiment
Leeds U23s now have a two-week break before their next game which comes against Sunderland on January 5.
Monday’s draw was noticeable for a positional change for Jack Jenkins, with the midfielder operating in a right-back role.
Asked about his switch to play there, Jackson explained the need for players to show versatility.
“Players need to be multi-functional. We know that here. That’s just a change where the manager wanted to look at Jack in that position.
“Sometimes it can be disruptive for the team but the boys cope really well with it. They’re really effective at adapting and adapting their mindset within the game, because it’s not easy to play one position and then switch to another one.
“Sometimes you get a rhythm and a flow to a game in a particular position and a player you’re playing up against and then you have to change that into a different area of the pitch.
“It’s ever so important in how we play as a club that players can do that. It’s just another example of us trying things and helping the players adapt to those positions.”