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Leeds’ Kiko Casilla has transformed the defence after remarkable turnaround

Football Writers' Association: Opening the Door to BAME Journalists

Casting your mind back to last season’s playoffs presumably won’t be a happy thought for those involved at Leeds, but it’s crucial in telling the tale of Kiko Casilla.

The Spaniard, arguably playing his biggest game for the club yet, made a calamitous mistake.

He came rushing out of his goal before failing to claim the ball and then allowing Derby to score. It summed up the end to Leeds’ season but also his career at Elland Road.

After arriving in west Yorkshire, he found life difficult and achieved an abysmal match rating of 6.30 on average last term according to WhoScored.

This was a man who looked a shadow of someone who had arrived from a club of Real Madrid’s stature. He struggled with the league and ultimately, Leeds came a cropper when it mattered.

In a crucial game against Sheffield United, he was shown a red card as his time at the club became more about the mistakes he made rather than the shots he denied.

On that evidence, was it really a surprise that, come the summer transfer window, a potential move away was on the cards? For a once-calamitous goalkeeper on £40k-a-week, it was not.

If you’re on those wages, you should be expected to perform – especially when you’re the joint-highest earner.

After all, Kalvin Phillips has recently been handed a new deal that matches the Spaniard’s, and the academy graduate is arguably Leeds’ best player – the club themselves wrote of how “integral” he was after rejecting bids in excess of £20m for him.

Casilla, however, was not performing – it could be argued that he was the reason Leeds didn’t go up, after they missed out on the top two by one place and failed to navigate the playoffs.

This summer Marcelo Bielsa had a choice to make. Stick with Kiko Casilla or bring back Bailey Peacock-Farrell.

The Northern Irishman started last season before being ousted at the end of January, and ultimately, he was the one who walked out of the door in the summer.

He now resides at Burnley and Casilla is beginning to show exactly why he was once a Real Madrid player, and indeed why Sevilla were linked with him during the window.

His performance against Barnsley at the weekend was arguably one of his best in a Leeds shirt, certainly this season anyway.

This was a display untypical of the 32-year-old but it demonstrated why he is one of the top earners at Leeds.

He made six saves and parried away the danger once as he looked resolute between the sticks. There was one save in particular that stood out, as he dived to his left to make an excellent stop.

Faith in Casilla, so it would seem, has been entirely vindicated.

This term it’s looked as though he’s become more used to the league, thus enabling a calmer and sturdier defence.

Casilla has only conceded three times in the Championship, keeping four clean sheets. Considering Pontus Jansson left over the summer, this must come as a welcome relief.

He has transformed how Leeds look as a backline and he deserves a huge amount of credit for that, as does Bielsa for trusting in him for so long.

No longer is he proving to be an erratic and misguided figure. Instead, he now looks an experienced professional, and that has rubbed off on Liam Cooper and Ben White.

It’s with the ball at his feet where Leeds’ number 13 has also become a presence.

For someone who lacked a calming nature, Casilla has been assured and there have even been occasions where he’s managed more accurate passes of the ball than any of the opposition’s outfield players.

That’s remarkably happened five times, including against Barnsley last weekend.

Throughout the summer it could have been easy for Bielsa to have a different preference. The once faltering Casilla might have been out the door under another manager but his turnaround has been rather impressive.

Of course, there is still a long way in the season to go but with Leeds top of the league, the goalkeeper has more than earned his pay packet.

Keeping his side in the game against Barnsley proved that confidence is building, and after making clangers last season, Casilla has become a rejuvenated figure.

He may now even become key to promotion.

Article title: Leeds’ Kiko Casilla has transformed the defence after remarkable turnaround

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