Vice-captain, loyal servant and arguably a club legend, Leeds United defender Luke Ayling is something of a hero around Elland Road.
But having amassed 217 appearances and secured a Championship winners medal during his time at the west Yorkshire outfit, it could be time to move on.
There’s no denying that this season has been appalling – stopping just short of disastrous – as it appears as if new manager Jesse Marsch has steered the Whites to safety, having been involved in the relegation dogfight for the past few months.
A four-game unbeaten run, which includes wins over basement boys Norwich City and relegation rivals Watford, has seen Leeds move nine points clear of Burnley with six matches left to play.
They may have just done it.
However, the team is still the leakiest defence in the Premier League, having conceded a whopping 68 goals from their 32 outings – an average of 2.1 goals let in per game.
And when you’re having to score three goals every week to stand a chance at winning – without last season’s top goalscorer Patrick Bamford too – then it’s no wonder the Yorkshiremen have found themselves in a precarious position at times.
It’s a backline that has largely been unaltered since promotion from the second flight and there have to be question marks over whether big players like Ayling can consistently cut the mustard at this level.
Marsch ought to be ruthless this off-season by trying to secure a better option and that’s not through any fault of his own but Ayling has looked out of his depth at times.
During the recent win over the Hornets, commentator and former Wales international David Phillips described the 30-year-old’s defending as “awful“, whilst his seasonal 6.56 average WhoScored rating is bettered by eight other Leeds players right now.
No one is dribbled past more than Ayling either, letting his man run by 1.6 times per game and when you’re coming up against some of the best left-wingers in the division – ranging from Heung-min Son to Sadio Mane and Raheem Sterling – it’s going to cause plenty of trouble for his defensive counterparts.
Former manager Marcelo Bielsa was a big admirer of the full-back, especially as he could often slot in at centre-half for him. He even once waxed lyrical about his talents in this regard. He told reporters:
“He was quick, he was agile, he defended well, he headed well, he used the ball well, he transmitted serenity to the rest of the team.”
Just because he has been at the club for the best part of six years, doesn’t mean Marsch owes him anything. If a better option can be secured, then he must look to axe the Leeds favourite for the benefit of him becoming a successful manager at Elland Road.
The £35k-per-week ace just isn’t good enough for the big time, at least in a team that shouldn’t be fighting to keep their place in the division. A ruthless decision, but the right one.
AND in other news, Phil Hay drops Robin Koch update amid Leeds exit rumours…