Brighton defender Ben White could be just as good in midfield says Leeds United boss Marcelo Bielsa

Ben White could make the same impact in midfield as he has in the centre of Leeds United’s defence with just 10 or 15 games’ worth of experience, says Marcelo Bielsa.

Tuesday, 10th March 2020, 11:51 am

The centre-half, on loan at Elland Road for the season from parent club Brighton and Hove Albion, has excelled in defence this season, after overcoming his initial difficulty to handle the physical demands of Bielsa’s pre-season training regime.

His central defensive partner, Liam Cooper, revealed at a Q and A with supporters earlier in the season that White had struggled to adapt to the intensity of Leeds’ summer workload, despite making the move from a Premier League club.

Once he found his feet, however, the 22-year-old flourished and is making a truly impressive fist of his rookie Championship season.

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His reading of the game places him among the division’s top four players for interceptions and he leads United when it comes to blocks made and passing accuracy.

The consistency of his performances, alongside the equally steady Cooper, helped Leeds put together the best defensive record in the country by November and, although the Whites have endured a rocky period since then, they’re currently leading the Championship and enjoying a run of five consecutive clean sheets and victories.

What makes their recent form and defensive solidity all the more impressive is the fact that defensive midfield linchpin Kalvin Phillips limped out of the 1-0 win over Reading in the first half and missed subsequent wins over Middlesbrough and Huddersfield Town. White stepped out of defence to replace Phillips in midfield in both of those games and looked particularly comfortable in the most recent, the 2-0 victory over the Terriers.

Bielsa sees benefits for White in experiencing life outside his usual position, because he can naturally find himself in Phillips’ domain during play even if he’s partnering Cooper in defence, in the same way that Phillips – who has experienced life as a centre-half – can end up in the heart of the backline.

Ben White looked comfortable in midfield against Huddersfield Town on Saturday for Leeds United (Pic: Jonathan Gawthorpe)

“For a ball-carrying centre-back it is a very good opportunity to play as a midfielder, and it is necessary” said the head coach.

“For a ball-carrying midfielder it is necessary to play as a centre-back.

“These positions are close to each other and one player in either position can play in both during the play.”

And what Bielsa has seen from White in the central defensive midfield role is enough for the Argentine to make a bold proclamation about the youngster’s ability to produce the same kind of quality performances in front of the defence as he has done at the heart of it.

“I think if he plays 10 or 15 matches in this position he would have impact in the same way he does as a centre-back,” said Bielsa, who hopes to have Phillips fit and available again for this weekend’s trip to Cardiff City.

The head coach said on Saturday that Phillips’ injury was not serious and simply a reoccurence or the lingering effect of his previous knock, sustained against Reading.