From a defensive point of view, this season has been difficult for Leeds United.
It has often been a tale of whether the Whites can outscore their opponents. In the final third, they are swashbuckling and relentless in their approach. Very often do they come out second best, unless they’re left open at the back.
It’s unsurprising that’s been the case though when you consider some of the injury problems they’ve had. Liam Cooper missed the first few weeks of the season while Diego Llorente has been largely anonymous for the first five months of his Leeds career.
Robin Koch has also missed a large portion of the campaign through injury.
With that in mind, it’s rather amazing to see them occupy a place just outside the Premier League’s top ten.
Bielsa has patched together his backline and they have still managed to gain results. Llorente is now back fit and his influence in the middle of the defence is proving invaluable.
Llorente would play ten minutes against Newcastle in January before being absent for another four games; this time because of a hamstring problem. Since then, however, Llorente has played four consecutive 90 minutes.
Very quickly, we’re starting to see why Victor Orta put in so much effort to bring him to Elland Road.
Signed from Real Sociedad last summer for £18m, this addition was a bit of a coup given his status in La Liga. He was a Spain international trading European football for a potential relegation battle.
Indeed, he must have been left wondering what on Earth he’d done after playing just twice before the New Year period. Though, with Leeds in 12th place and Llorente now proving so important, he is beginning to pay back his fee.
In the summer months, Orta had a few options. Koch was one, but there were failed attempts to sign both Ben White and Josko Gvardiol. After last season’s performances, White would have been the cherry on top of the cake.
Though, after missing out on him, Llorente was the next best thing. His performances of late are finally proving why this is a dream deal for Leeds.
Despite conceding against Aston Villa, he was imperious, fending off Ollie Watkins and regularly stopping the Villans in their tracks by intercepting the passing lanes. The £52k-per-week earner made four tackles during that game but arguably saved his best performance for Chelsea last Saturday.
The 27-year-old was a force to be reckoned with, winning 100% of his ground duels and completing 81% of his passes in the process. It was a performance that Phil Hay rightfully described as “impressive.”
Since Llorente came back into the side, Leeds have kept two clean sheets; something that’s a bit of a rarity this term. Although Bielsa will be pleased with his defensive capabilities, it’s the Spaniard’s ability to drive the team forward that stands out.
Like White, the centre-back is capable of picking out a pass and dribbling out from the back. With that in mind, he is the perfect Bielsa player.
He has missed much of the season but in double-quick time he has now shown what an impressive capture he was. The £18m they paid is beginning to look like very shrewd business.