After suffering a disappointing exit in the FA Cup third round against Crawley Town last time out, Leeds United return to Premier League action on Saturday afternoon as they take on Brighton at Elland Road.
Marcelo Bielsa will no doubt be reeling from the Whites’ cup exit last week, and given that he made a few changes to the starting line-up on that day, will surely be looking to bring back some of his key first-team stars.
And whilst he may not be the most glamorous or eye-catching name on the team-sheet, there’s no questioning that Luke Ayling has been one of the Leeds boss’ most trusted lieutenants over the past couple of seasons.
The £45k-a-week earning ace has played the full 90 minutes in every single Premier League game this season bar one – and even that was against Arsenal when Bielsa took him off to try and find a goal in the last 20 minutes against ten-man Arsenal.
Ayling has also worn the captain’s armband on six occasions this campaign, including the last three matches in the top-flight, and his leadership at the back is something the Whites could desperately do with even if Liam Cooper makes the starting line-up alongside him.
Described as a “great technician”, Ayling’s presence in the side cannot be underestimated, with Bielsa saying after Leeds’ 3-0 victory over Aston Villa back in late October that he “transmitted serenity to the rest of the team”.
After that damaging defeat to Crawley, it’s vital the Leeds boss brings him back into the fold on Saturday and he can help bring a bit of calmness to the defence again.
Bielsa once said that Ayling was someone “who can solve any problem”. On Saturday, the return of his lynch-pin will go a long way to ensuring the Whites get back to winning ways.