Leeds United are running high in the Sky Bet Championship, currently in a healthy second place. They are maintaining this with a lean, pared down squad at the insistence of Marcelo Bielsa.
Yet many are saying that it is a risky proposition doing so, risky in that if injuries escalate from a ‘spate’ to a ‘raft’ in magnitude, the Whites could be found somewhat lacking. As it is, they have coped admirably with what injuries have occurred.
Leaning of players slotting into positions that are not first nature, and helped by the timing of the international breaks, Leeds United have managed to keep up the pace at the head of the table. Yet, some fans are worried, saying that playing with fire will end up with fingers being burned rather than just singed.
Ahead of Saturday’s controversial draw with Nottingham Forest, Leeds had a number of players on the treatment table with a degree of injuries. Barry Douglas is nearing the end of his recuperation from injury, whilst Patrick Bamford and Izzy Brown are still some way off that stage.
The list grew recently when the just returned from a layout Gaetano Berardi was back in for treatment on another injury. That return to the medical staff was compounded on Saturday by the injury suffered by influential right-back Luke Ayling.
The severity of the injury wasn’t stated, Leeds United awaiting further tests from a specialist to uncover the nature of whatever Ayling has suffered. However, it doesn’t look too good (below):
The injury to Ayling, irrespective of its severity, will have an effect on the Whites. It will stretch an already stretched side even more, already thin resources having to be further eked out. Yet, United do have options, here’s five that they can explore.
Overcoming Ayling injury – five options for Leeds United to explore
Option 1: Use Stuart Dallas. This might NOT be the option that many Leeds United fans would instantly go ‘You know what, why didn’t I think of that?’ However, it does remain an option that the Whites can explore. He featured there on Saturday against Forest after Ayling went off, and did better than when he started at left-back. As an option, it’s there; like I said though, it is an option that many Leeds United fans might not like.
Option 2: Bring in Jamie Shackleton. This could be a popular choice amongst fans, if the Whites draft 19-year-old Shackleton into a starting right-back role. He’s made four appearances this season in the Sky Bet Championship, one of these being a start and 90 minutes against Swansea in a hard-fought 2-2 draw. He even managed an assist that game. Ordinarily a right-sided midfielder, Shackleton has shown that he can adapt to being dropped back into a defensive slot.
Option 3: Play a flat back-three. Another thing that Leeds United might want to consider is employing a flat back three of Kalvin Phillips, Pontus Jansson and Liam Cooper against Wigan. Whilst not ideal, Phillips does slot into a quasi centre-back role when opponents are attacking and he would have the added reassurance of regular defenders Liam Cooper and Pontus Jansson either side of him. This could be bolstered by having Jamie Shackleton and Stuart Dallas playing more as wing-backs than full-backs.
Option 4: Dipping into the Under-23s. Not quite as desperate an option as many would think. The Under-23s, coached by Carlos Corberan, have been drilled in to playing the Bielsa way, so any player promotion would see an almost seamless fit into the first-team squad. A player such as Bryce Hosannah, a natural right-back, or Pascal Struijk, a centre-back, could be considered a viable option.
Option 5: Recall Lewie Coyle from Fleetwood Town. Coyle is currently on loan at League One side Fleetwood Town, his second season there. Whilst he may not have, as some reckon, a future at Elland Road, bringing him back on an early recall might be an option. That, of course, is dependent on whether there is an early recall option in the half-season loan deal that took him to the west coast club.