Why Leeds United’s Robin Koch is back in business after frustrating season

Of all the positive steps Leeds United took on Sunday, Robin Koch’s was the least assuming.

He did not score his first league goal of the season, as Jack Harrison did in the 3-1 win over Burnley, or even his second, like Dan James. There was no assist a la Joe Gelhardt, he did not cover the ground Junior Firpo did, or mark a major milestone like another first-time scorer, Stuart Dallas, on his 250th Whites appearance.

Leeds did not keep a clean sheet, nor did Koch make eye-catching tackles or dramatic clearances. But for a centre-back or holding midfielder, going unnoticed can be good. The quiet efficiency stereotypical of Germans like Koch can be a hallmark of good defending.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Koch’s marker – milestone would be stretching it – was first consecutive matches this season. He should not have faced Arsenal before Christmas. Coach Marcelo Bielsa is uncomfortable pitching players into first-team football after lengthy injuries without an Under-23 run-out, which is why Patrick Bamford did not play a month after facing Brentford.

Robin Koch: Has impressed Marcelo Bielsa. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

After a particularly miserable opening game of the season deputising for Kalvin Phillips, Koch suffered a pelvic injury which eventually forced him to go to America for surgery, then fell ill. But with 10 senior players unavailable against Arsenal –including all the senior centre-backs and Charlie Cresswell – Koch got on with it. Managers do not forget things like that.

“Perhaps he came back prematurely and produced a stable level,” said Bielsa. “(On Sunday) he was able to maintain it in a complicated game.”

It was also the first time Koch and the other international defender Leeds bought in the summer of 2020, Diego Llorente, played together at centre-back. Koch was in midfield for the previous matches they started together, against Brighton and Hove Albion and Tottenham Hotspur, but on Sunday Koch was in the middle of a back three, Llorente to his left.

Bielsa’s complication was Aaron Lennon, somewhere between a No 10 and a partner for Chris Wood. Leeds like to play three centre-backs against a front two, two versus one. Rather than confuse matters, they stuck in their three and worked it out.

Leeds United's Diego Llorente Picture: Bruce Rollinson

With Llorente booked and now suspended, the partnership will be broken up in the next league game, although it could continue at West Ham United in the FA Cup on Sunday.

Both have shown what they are capable of with a sustained run of matches but 18 months on, neither have done it enough to be declared unqualified successes. Hopefully, that can now change.

Leeds United boss Marcelo Bielsa barks out the instructions by his opposite number Sean Dyche Picture: Tony Johnson.