Leeds United’s starting XI now is full of fresh faces, players who were either brought to the club during the days of Marcelo Bielsa or under new manager Jesse Marsch.
It is a Victor Orta squad, with the Spaniard sinking Andrea Radrizzani’s money into the playing operations in order to create a side capable of staying in the Premier League.
They just about hung onto their top-flight status for 2022/23 and it is now down to Marsch to take the Yorkshire outfit to the next level.
The likes of Luis Sinisterra, Brenden Aaronson, Marc Roca and Tyler Adams have all been welcome additions to the squad but there are still a few old heads lingering around the squad, largely in defence.
Although he is plagued by fitness concerns, Liam Cooper remains the club captain and has been at Elland Road since moving from Chesterfield in 2014. One of their other longest-serving players was also brought in from the Football League, with Luke Ayling arriving in 2016 from Bristol City.
The full-back has since had a rather meteoric rise, being tipped for an England place if it wasn’t for the luxury of right-backs already at Gareth Southgate’s disposal.
A rocky end to 2021/22 saw him dubbed an “idiot” for his red card in a defeat to Arsenal but for the vast majority of his time at Leeds, he has been a pillar of solidity and someone who underpinned so many of the values Bielsa brought with him.
The fact Ayling became a reliable Premier League footballer said a lot about the development of this Leeds side under the great Argentine and although now 31 years of age, he is still a dependable option despite Rasmus Kristensen’s emergence on the scene.
It’s safe to say the Whites struck gold with their decision to bring the former Arsenal man in, with the club paying a measly sum of just £200,000 six years ago.
So good has the Englishman been that his value has risen by 1250% to £2.7m. That isn’t a jaw-dropping sum of money by any means but it’s a marker of his Premier League-proven ability.
In fact, one writer – Mark White – even suggested that he could end up back at Arsenal towards the end of last season, suggesting:
“Luke Ayling might be a decent back-up right-back at Arsenal, you know. Tactically astute, phenomenal engine, technically secure, pure leader and crucially, has the balls to push, press and aggress regardless of what the game state is.”
Indeed, those words perfectly sum up what the experienced defender brings to Marsch’s ranks. He is a leader of men, capable of pressing and hounding the opposition, while also producing surges forward.
Last term, no player in the Leeds squad made more than his 2.8 tackles per match while his tally of 1.6 aerial duels won was the sixth-best in the club’s ranks. A total of two goals and two assists also proved he can make an impact in the offensive third too.
Arguably now past his best, Ayling has been a rock for Leeds down the years and considering just how little they bought him for, it was a masterstroke to sign him.