Yesterday coach Marcelo Bielsa expressed the hope that although Patrick Bamford is not yet back in training, he will play again this season, but after 16 goals conceded in the last four games, it is at the other end of the field where the issues are most grave.
Bielsa spoke repeatedly in his press conference to preview the match against Tottenham Hotspur about being without five of six players for the central defensive and defensive midfield positions. Cooper, Phillips and youngster Leo Fuhr Hjelde remain sidelined but Llorente and Koch are set to return.
Koch suffered a head injury he initially played on with during Sunday’s 4-2 defeat to Manchester United but was told to sit down on the field if he felt any symptoms of concussion. When he did, a quarter of an hour later, he walked off dizzily.
Crucially, he showed no symptoms 24 hours later or since, and as such, has not had to be kept out of training or matches for 14 days.
Instead, after around 36 hours’ rest, Koch was allowed to do 15 minutes on an exercise bike on Tuesday, football-specific exercises the next day and non-contact training on Thursday ahead of yesterday’s return to full training. All the while he was undergoing neurocognative tests comparing his data with the baseline data Leeds’s medics have on him.
If today’s are satisfactory, he will be able to play this afternoon.
Leeds’s actions and the protocols have been widely criticised but the Whites insist they have followed the guidance, which in terms of matchday is simplified into “If in doubt, sit it out”.
Llorente came off at half-time against the Red Devils and did not feature against Liverpool, exacerbating Leeds’s problems.
It is perhaps less the back four per se, more the midfield protection which has been the biggest issue, Llorente’s injury forcing Stuart Dallas into right-back in the first half of the 6-0 defeat at Liverpool.
Bielsa, though, was unhappy with the suggestion the midfield in the absence of Koch – who can play centre-back but has been holding the midfield recently –and Dallas was not solid enough with Mateusz Klich and Rodrigo playing in front of Adam Forshaw. That combination played the second half against Manchester United – where each side scored twice – and the first at Anfield, where the hosts led 3-0.
“The midfield with Klich and Rodrigo is very offensive,” acknowledged Bielsa. “(But) if you pay attention, the midfield in the second half against Manchester United was Forshaw, Klich and Rodrigo, and those 45 minutes were some of the best football played lately.
“You say to me that people say there’s a defensive imbalance when Klich and Rodrigo play. In the same way, a lot of people would say the best 45 minutes we played lately were with those two against Manchester (United). So there’s two realities – the 45 minutes against Manchester (United), and (three) days after, the first 45 minutes against Liverpool. So which is the truth?
“Do we have to deform what works before it stops working?
“Those same people are not having an opinion after Manchester United, only after Liverpool. In the middle, you have to make a decision.”
Cooper and Phillips had been targeting a return in early March from serious hamstring injuries suffered against Brentford in December, providing more defensive organisation to a team whose fortunes are at a fairly low ebb. At the last update they were progressing on schedule, but that has now been revised.
“There’s not a fixed date,” said Bielsa, repeating what he has always said about the pair. “The prediction that they were going to be available (in) early March –how they are right now, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be the case.”