Diego Llorente hopeful that his Leeds United injury woes are over as defender hails 'energy' of Whites colleague
DIEGO Llorente has gone from playing 91 minutes in five months to playing seven consecutive full games in six and a half weeks.
The £18m summer recruit from Real Sociedad is now optimistic of staying fit and clearly near the peak of his powers.
Yet even the rejuvenated Spanish defender can’t quite fathom from where Stuart Dallas found the energy to bag Leeds United’s late winner at Manchester City in which Llorente’s heroic defending proved key.
Llorente’s injury troubles since joining Leeds in September have been well documented but a full home debut against Southampton on March 23 presented the opportunity for something of a clean slate in just his second start of any kind and first outing for over a month.
Less than seven weeks later, the 27-year-old Spaniard has played every single minute of every single league game since - including some very nervy final few minutes in Saturday’s clash at runway leaders Manchester City.
Even with his side 1-0 up, the Spanish international knew Leeds were facing a seriously uphill battle in first-half stoppage time when his centre-back partner and Whites captain Liam Cooper was shown a straight-red card for a high challenge on Gabriel Jesus.
Llorente was suddenly the only Leeds centre-half on the pitch until Whites head coach Marcelo Bielsa sacrificed striker Patrick Bamford to bring on Pascal Struijk shortly before the break.
Another centre back in Robin Koch then joined the fray three minutes after the hour and Leeds and Llorente held firm until Ferran Torres fired home a 76th-minute equaliser.
Despite Leeds and Llorente’s best efforts, City looked on course for at least a point.
But the football world looked on stunned as Bielsa’s Whites countered to score a 91st-minute winner through Dallas and even a clearly thriving Llorente was as surprised as anyone else.
“I could not believe it because all the team were very tired and I don’t know from where he had the energy!” smiled Llorente to LUTV.
“But he got the goal so I am very happy for him and for all of the team.
“It was very nervous at the end but the team did a great effort to get the win.
“We knew with the red card of Cooper that it was going to be difficult but in the second half the team had a great attitude. We did a great job and the whole team got the victory.”
Asked what was said by Bielsa during the interval and the plan for the second half, Llorente explained: “The plan was to not suffer a lot and to try to recover the ball in their half. But we knew it was going to be difficult so the three points are good for us.”
Points wise, Leeds have taken 13 out of a possible 18 since Llorente’s return to the side which began with a clean sheet in a 3-0 win at home to Southampton.
Back to back defeats at home to Aston Villa and away at West Ham followed before the goalless draw against high flying Chelsea at Elland Road and then a 2-1 victory at Fulham before the international break.
Llorente was then called straight back into Luis Enrique’s Spain side for March’s three World Cup qualifiers and the defender played the first 45 minutes of the 2-1 victory against Georgia in Tbilisi.
Back on English soil, Llorente then helped Leeds to a 2-1 victory at home to Sheffield United upon his return from the international break before Saturday’s heroics at City.
Up until the 76th minute at the Etihad, Llorente even looked on course to help his side to another clean sheet, even with ten men.
“It’s very difficult,” said Llorente, reflecting on the feeling when Pep Guardiola’s side finally netted an equaliser.
“His team is very good, they are players who make some movements very quickly and very fast and we tried to stop them.
“I think we did that but the most important thing was the victory.”
In the bigger picture, even more important is Llorente’s impressive return.
Reflecting on how he was feeling after a seventh full game in a row after his earlier injury troubles, the Spaniard mused: “A long time ago it was very hard for me at the beginning of the season.
"But with all the work at the training ground and all the work with the staff I think I stay fit now.
“That’s most important.”
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Thank you Laura Collins