Leeds United have picked up a bit of form at just the right time, and having picked up seven points from a possible nine, they head into tomorrow’s clash against Watford with a whole lot more confidence.
Jesse Marsch’s side picked up some much-needed victories over Norwich and Wolves before drawing 1-1 to Southampton at Elland Road last time out.
Their trip to Vicarage Road may prove to be a stern test given that Roy Hodgson’s men are currently battling for their lives in the Premier League relegation battle, and Marsch will have some big calls to make on his starting line-up.
One decision he might be compelled to make is dropping Diego Llorente.
The Spain international has found himself in and out of the side in recent weeks and months, with niggling injuries disrupting him from really putting together a run of consistent games together.
After being forced off inside the first half against Wolves at Molineux in mid-March, Llorente made an immediate return against the Saints last weekend, but he looked off the pace and nervy on occasion.
As per Sofascore, while he made a team-high six tackles, he also committed the joint-most fouls, finding it difficult to balance being aggressive and playing on the edge, and sometimes losing his cool and composure. In fact, this season has seen him lose 80 duels in total in the Premier League, while winning only 97.
Writing in his post-match player ratings for Leeds Live, Beren Cross gave him a five, saying: “Can be unconventional, but brilliant at times or just verging on calamity in the backline. Armando Broja gave him a difficult afternoon without dominating him.”
Those sentiments were echoed by The Yorkshire Evening Post‘s Graham Smyth, who awarded him a six, before adding: “Brought an element of drama at times that felt unnecessary, some mixed moments of defending and in possession.”
Pascal Struijk was the man to find himself out of the team following the return of club captain Liam Cooper, and the Scot was partnered with Llorente in central defence.
While the Dutchman may have had a difficult time of late, at just 22 he remains a big part of the future of this Leeds team, and he would surely learn a lot more from playing rather than sitting on the bench.
Indeed, speaking earlier this year, Cooper himself said of Struijk: “Pascal has absolutely everything to be one of the best centre-backs out there, he really has. He’s unbelievable on the ball, he’s strong, good in the air. I always knew. We all know now. His improvement speaks for itself.”
Bringing the youngster into the line-up and having someone as experienced as Cooper alongside him should see him return to much better form, knowing that he has someone to fall back upon and organise the defence rather than feeling the pressure to do so himself.
Valued at £12m by CIES, Llorente should be dropped from the starting line-up against Watford, with Struijk coming back in to take his place and resume his fledgling partnership with Cooper.