Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa confirmed in his Aston Villa pre-match press conference on Friday that he could start Luke Ayling following his return from injury, but there are two seriously good reasons why he must take his place on the substitutes’ bench instead.
The 27-year-old has been on the sidelines since the end of October after suffering a knee injury, but his Argentine boss surprisingly revealed that he could select him to start at Villa Park on Sunday.
That would certainly be no surprise in many ways given the Yorkshire outfit’s defensive crisis in recent weeks, with the absences of Ayling, Liam Cooper and Gaetano Berardi meaning that midfielders Stuart Dallas, Kalvin Phillips and Jamie Shackleton have taken their places in unfamiliar roles in the backline.
It is the latter who has filled in for the former Bristol City man at right-back most recently, and he has impressed.
While there is no question about the quality and experience he brings to Leeds, coming up against an in-form Yannick Bolasie this weekend means he shouldn’t be named in the starting XI.
If he was match-fit there is no question that he could deal with the Everton loanee, but given he has only just returned the prospect of playing such a tricky and speedy winger means that the 27-year-old would be in serious danger of aggravating the problem he has only just recovered from, and the Whites can’t afford for that to happen as they need him available over the busy festive period.
Furthermore, Shackleton has proved in recent matches that he has the pace and defensive nous to deal with a player who has provided four assists in his previous four Championship outings.
It would be seen as a risk by some, but it makes sense to stick with the teenager who has done more than enough to earn his place and Bielsa shouldn’t want to send a negative message to him.
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