When United skipper Liam Cooper pulled up with injury in the 31st minute of last night’s clash with West Bromwich Albion, alarm bells will surely have started to ring amongst the Elland Road faithful.
Though they saw their side claim a very good victory against a talented Albion side, the injury to their leader will be a concern going forward as Leeds look a little light in their defensive ranks.
As reported in the Yorkshire Evening Post, the full extent of Cooper’s injury is not yet known, though the Scottish international looked in some discomfort as he hobbled off the pitch holding his groin, being replaced at the heart of the defence by Gaetano Berardi – a full back by trade.
This in itself highlights the issue facing United and Bielsa, should Cooper’s injury be a long-term one. For all their attacking threats and options, Leeds look short at the back – lacking in numbers, especially in central defence.
Young Ben White has been superb since his arrival on loan from Premier League Brighton, but aside from him and Cooper, Bielsa has no other senior central defenders in his squad and has to rely on full backs Berardi and Luke Ayling to fill in on occasions.
While they both do a decent job, the position is not their preferred one and they perhaps lack the positional sense and physical attributes needed in the role.
Marcelo Bielsa will surely be ruing not having a back up option in central defence. Cooper, though not necessarily injury prone, does pick up a few knocks throughout a season and the manager will have known they’ll be times when his captain will have been unavailable.
Bielsa’s men, as usual, look good in possession and though they probably also lack numbers in the forward positions, they always look like creating chances and scoring goals.
What has really set Leeds apart from others though, is their defensive resilience this season – conceding just five (league) goals so far – and it’s an area of strength that Bielsa will be hoping to maintain across the campaign.
It’s a long season though, and the Championship is a tough division which creates a plethora of challenges – physically, mentally and tactically.
All involved with the club will be hoping Cooper’s injury isn’t too bad. While if it is a long-term problem, and should United start to struggle defensively, questions will be asked as to whether Bielsa and the club recruited adequately in the summer to meet the demands and rigours of a tough Championship division.