Phillips injury causes selection dilemma for Marcelo Bielsa

20 Oct 2020 07:47 pm, by YorkshireSquare

The international break wasn’t kind to Leeds United with both Liam Cooper and Diego Llorente returning to Thorp Arch with injuries. Silver clouds though, at least Kalvin Phillips returned from England duty in one piece! The injuries left Marcelo Bielsa short at the back for Monday evenings game against Wolves but there was hope when Liam Cooper was names on the team sheet. The hope wouldn’t last though as Cooper limped away from the warmup and Pascal Struijk took his place alongside Robin Koch. Yet again Struijk impressed, as he has every time he has been called upon. Cool and composed, it looked as though we’d be alright after all.

But whilst Gareth Southgate may have handed Phillips back unscathed, he wasn’t to fare so well during 90 minutes against Nuno Espírito Santo’s men at Elland Road on Monday. Phillips picked up a shoulder injury late on in the game during a challenge with Raúl Jiménez and whilst he was able to finish the game could not be out for up to six weeks. It is understood surgery is not required but he will be on the treatment table at Thorp Arch for an extended period potentially missing Leeds United’s next five games against Aston Villa, Leicester City, Crystal Palace, Arsenal and Everton.

Marcelo Bielsa does have defensive midfield alternatives in his squad but with the current injuries his options are limited to say the least. This summers two defensive signings; Robin Koch and Diego Llorente can both play defensive midfield but with Llorente injured Koch is left as the only senior central defensive option. Adam Forshaw would have been the natural choice but having only just returned to training he is well below the fitness and sharpness levels demanded by Bielsa. That leaves Pascal Struijk who deputised towards the end of last season, but is he best of remaining in the centre of the defence?

Luke Ayling could cover if Struijk were to move forward, but it feels like a tactical change which weakens three positions. With Ayling moving to the middle his attacking threat is nullified, Stuart Dallas is also compromised by moving over to the right to cover Ayling whilst Leif Davis and Ezgjan Alioski are arguably do not offer the same level of versatility and energy as Dallas at left back. Perhaps Jack Harrison could move to left back with Raphinha slotting in at left wing. It all feels a bit like shuffling the deck too much to me, the key to success is consistency and changing four positions to cover one feels like a change too far.

Jamie Shackleton, who played well at the end of last season, could step into the midfield as a direct replacement for Phillips. He isn’t as defensively minded as Phillips but could do a job in the role. On the other hand, Mateusz Klich could drop deeper with Pablo Hernandez coming into midfield. Stuart Dallas has played pretty much every position except goalkeeper over the past fourteen months, why not throw defensive midfield into the mix as well? Of course this is all dependant on Struijk being fit. The young Dutchman slipped in the build up to Wolves goal and was substituted shortly after. Lets hope that was just a precautionary/tactical change otherwise Bielsa will have an even bigger dilemma come Friday.

Marcelo Bielsa certainly has a difficult choice ahead of Friday’s game against Aston Villa, he has options but I’m sure whatever he decides to do, it will be what we are all least expecting.