Speaking on a recent episode of The Phil Hay Show, the titular journalist suggested that, following his goal-scoring outing in the U21’s 6-2 victory over Southampton U21s last Friday, he would expect Liam Cooper to come into Jesse Marsch’s starting XI when Villa make the trip to Elland Road on October 2.
The Athletic journalist then went on to state that, after enduring a torrid few weeks in the heart of the Leeds backline, he would expect that it is Diego Llorente who makes way for the return of the 31-year-old Scotland international.
Regarding Marsch’s central defensive decision against Villa, Hay said:
“Cooper importantly [got game-time] because I would imagine there’s a decision to be made there about whether it’s Llorente who starts against Villa at Elland Road or whether Cooper comes back in.
“Personally, I would be leaning towards Cooper coming back in but then again, I’ve always been a Cooper fan in comparison to a lot of other people and I do think the defence is far more sturdy with him in it, generally.”
Considering how reliable Cooper has been in the centre of defence for Leeds over the past few years, coupled with just how shakey Llorente has been at the back in recent fixtures, it is not difficult to understand why Hay would prefer Marsch to start the Scot against Villa in 11 days’ time.
Indeed, while the £6.3m-rated centre-back is yet to feature in the league this season, the 31-year-old nevertheless proved over his 21 fixtures last term just how important he is to the Whites, helping his side keep five clean sheets, as well as making an average of 2.0 interceptions, 2.0 tackles and 3.4 clearances per game – ranking him first, eighth and second in the Leeds squad for each metric respectively.
These returns saw the £6.5k-per-week talent average a quite remarkable SofaScore match rating of 6.99, ranking him as Marsch’s best performing outfielder in the 2021/22 campaign – playing an absolutely crucial role in the club retaining their top-flight status last time out.
Meanwhile, over Llorente’s six Premier League appearances so far this term, the £14.4m-rated Spain international has not exactly impressed, having already made two mistakes that led directly to a goal and averaged an extremely disappointing SofaScore match rating of just 6.67 – currently ranking the 29-year-old as the Whites’ seventh-worst performer in the league.
As such, with Cooper’s performance in the U21’s demolition of Southampton last week very much appearing to suggest the defender is finally back to full fitness, it is clear for all to see that the Scot’s return will come as a huge boost for Marsch and his side – with the 48-year-old manager simply having no other choice than to start the 31-year-old ahead of the Spaniard.