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…
Leeds suffered a huge blow on Wednesday as it was confirmed that club captain Liam Cooper would be out for six weeks.
Cooper has been a huge figure at the back under Marcelo Bielsa and was named in the PFA Team of the Year last season.
Since then, he’s been handed a new deal and been part of a backline alongside Ben White that’s only conceded five times in 2019/20.
He’s only missed one league outing this season and without him, there could be concerns over the defence.
After all, during pre-season, supporters were worried by the prospect of Gaetano Berardi featuring. They’ve begun to change their minds on the Swiss defender but even so, he’s still an incredibly unreliable figure.
Since joining the west Yorkshire club he’s been handed six red cards. It seems like an unfathomable amount so whether or not he can be trusted is up for debate.
20-year-old Pascal Struijk is someone that could prosper in his place while Luke Ayling is also a viable option.
The 28-year-old was handed a new four-year deal this week despite only returning from injury.
However, he might have to be fast-tracked back into a central role, rather than the more familiar right-back position he’s occupied previously.
Ayling hasn’t played at centre-half for ten months. The last time he featured there was in the FA Cup third round all the way back at the beginning of January.
He’s featured just four times for Leeds in that role in the Championship but overall it’s a position that he’s taken up 27 times in the second tier, according to Transfermarkt.
During that time he’s kept just six clean sheets and conceded a whopping 45 goals – something that might be an issue.
Just one of those clean sheets have come in a Leeds shirt but he’s still been solid individually.
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According to WhoScored, Ayling has managed 1.7 tackles per game and 1.8 interceptions each outing. That final statistic equates to more than he made at right-back in 2018/19.
He’s meanwhile won an average of 2.8 aerial duels per game as a central defender.
It could be that this position drives the best out of his reading of the game and with Stuart Dallas unlikely to be moved from the right, it’s in the middle where the former Arsenal man’s imminent future might lie.
Whether Bielsa opts for the Lambeth-born man at centre-back remains to be seen, but he’s certainly someone to consider.