Leeds leader in diplomatic response to ‘unbelievable’ competition for role

Date published: Thursday 8th April 2021 8:55 - Samuel Bannister

Liam Cooper admits that Leeds United have “unbelievable” competition for places at centre-back, but insists that can only be a good thing.

Leeds have four strong options in Cooper’s position and all are currently fit. That has been a rare boost for Marcelo Bielsa this season. As well as Cooper, he has Diego Llorente, Robin Koch and Pascal Struijk at his disposal.

Having all four available has led to a dilemma that Bielsa has rarely had this season. Koch and Llorente have both had injury troubles since joining the club in the summer.

Given the money Leeds invested in them, they are among the club’s most important players. But so is captain Cooper and Struijk has shone in their absence.

One pundit recently claimed that Bielsa now faces his toughest dilemma yet as Leeds boss in picking the right combinations.

Cooper, though, seems happy with the idea of Bielsa rotating his troops and thinks both he and his competitors must now raise their games further to earn their place.

“Yes, 100 per cent,” he told LUTV when asked if he has a point to prove now.

“I am a big believer; it is only healthy for us.

“We have got four unbelievable centre-halves chomping at the bit to play, obviously a German international, a Spanish international and me and Pascal all going for those two positions.

“So, you have to apply yourself, train hard every day and do what the manager asks and play when called up on.

 

“I do not think there is no egos or anything like that.

“There are no bad feelings when we do not play.

“We just push each other to be the best we can and long may that continue.”

Bielsa says all defenders in contention

Marcelo Bielsa Leeds United

After leaving Struijk out in favour of Cooper and Llorente for Leeds’ last game, Bielsa explained his thinking.

“All the centre-backs have had the chance to play,” he said. “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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