Rodrigo’s return ‘perhaps was too quick’ admits Leeds United boss Marcelo Bielsa

Marcelo Bielsa says Rodrigo needs time to build up to his best form, and admitted he may have asked too much of him too soon, with the Spaniard now a doubt for Leeds United’s Premier League trip to Fulham tomorrow.

The club record signing has a muscle strain, which makes the news Patrick Bamford is set to shrug off injury to play at Craven Cottage even more welcome.

It is another example of Rodrigo’s stop-start season since joining Leeds from Valencia in August. Adapting to a new team, Covid-19 and injury have stopped him getting into a rhythm.

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He had not started three in a row before 10 consecutive starts from mid-December to late January ended by a groin injury against Leicester City. The substitute was substituted against Chelsea on Saturday and has been left out of Spain’s World Cup qualifiers this month.

Leeds United's Rodrigo. Picture: PA

Unlike centre-back Robin Koch, an unused substitute on Saturday who played as a midfielder for the Under-23s in midweek, Bielsa believes Rodrigo needs time to hit his best form.

“Rodrigo didn’t manage to do pre-season with us,” he noted. “It took him four weeks to become a starter and after his best game, against Aston Villa, he became sick [with coronavirus] for 20 days, then to get back to his best state took him a month.

“Then he picked up that injury which kept him out for around five weeks.

“Perhaps [his return] was too quick because he gets [into] his best physical state by gradually increasing the minutes.

“He played 45 minutes with the Under-23s, then 45 against West Ham and Chelsea. My estimation was he shouldn’t have played more than 50 minutes [hence his withdrawal].”

That Rodrigo was needed early on Saturday was concerning because it was Bamford he replaced. Leeds’s top-scorer has missed only one league match in the past two seasons, and been substitute for another two.

“We think he will play,” said Bielsa. “He has a painful knock on his hip but we don’t think it’s going to make him miss the game.”

Liam Cooper will again be absent through illness. He was left out of Scotland’s squad for their forthcoming World Cup qualifiers because the expectation was that, at best, he would only be available for their third game.

Koch, however, is making good progress after knee surgery with Bielsa describing him as “an athlete who takes less time to reach his optimum levels,” but cautioning: “Either way we have to be careful so that his evolution is natural.”

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