Leeds’ Luke Ayling looks off the pace as Marcelo Bielsa gambles

This article is part of Football FanCast’s In Numbers series, which takes a statistical look at performances, season-long form and reported transfer targets… 

Marcelo Bielsa hasn’t done a lot wrong while in charge of Leeds but two matches have now gone by where he’s lamented his own decisions.

In Leeds’ win over West Brom, his choice to bring on Tyler Roberts for the injured Jamie Shackleton saw them lose control in the midfield before eventually putting Stuart Dallas in that role instead.

However, the defeat against Millwall saw more poor decision making from the 64-year-old.

This time it involved Dallas again, but also Luke Ayling.

The 28-year-old was returning from injury and made his first start for the first team since undergoing ankle surgery.

He played ahead of Dallas at right-back who consequently started in the middle of the park. The red card to Gaetano Berardi changed the nature of the game, however, as Ayling was moved into the centre of defence as the match played out.

It was a judgment call that ultimately saw Bamford have to drop deep as the entire system Leeds begun the game with was thrown up in the air.

Starting Ayling ahead of Dallas, who has arguably been one of Leeds’ most consistent players this term, was intriguing.

The former Arsenal man started 40 times in 2018/19 but his main competition has earned rave reviews from supporters and averaged the fifth-highest match rating of any Leeds man according to WhoScored.

While it may have gone better with 11 men on the pitch, Ayling didn’t look too comfortable at centre-half, a role he was playing in for the first time in ten months.

It was far from a disastrous display but it rather proved that Bielsa’s tactical gamble backfired. The first of which was playing Berardi and the second was perhaps rushing Ayling back because of injuries elsewhere.

Throughout the game he made just a solitary interception and one tackle while he also gave away a considerable three fouls, via WhoScored.

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It was a testing afternoon for the entire Leeds side as they suffered defeat with what was a makeshift XI.

Ayling was thrown in at the deep end on his return and it was rather unfortunate that this occurred.

Had Leeds signed more defensive cover in the summer he may have had a more straightforward route back into the side.

As it happened, the defender put in a rather underwhelming display statistically. As a result, Bielsa will have to think long and hard about whether Ayling should play at centre back or even if he should start ahead of Dallas.

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