Diego Llorente quickly answering key question as Leeds United defender heads off with Spain
DIEGO Llorente headed off on international duty with Spain following another solid Leeds United outing in a fifth full game in a row.
Times have swiftly changed for the £18m summer acquisition who has gone from having several months without a game at all to the possibility of facing nine within five weeks for club and country.
Llorente’s early injury problems at the Whites have been well documented and even head coach Marcelo Bielsa admitted only time would tell if the Spaniard’s body could withstand life in the English top flight.
“It’s very difficult to ignore all the injuries that he has had,” said Bielsa before last month’s hosting of Wolves, asked whether Llorente had been unlucky with Leeds or if his body was not up to the demands of the Premier League.
“There’s only one satisfactory response to your question, that he doesn’t repeat another of his injuries and that he is able to play regularly and show his qualities.
"The only way to have consistency in the response is if he comes back and plays with regularity.
“If he comes back and he is not able to play regularly then the response can’t be consistent. That’s why we have to wait and see what happens.”
Llorente was then an unused substitute in the forthcoming clash at Molineux in which Liam Cooper partnered Pascal Struijk at the heart of the Whites defence.
Yet with Kalvin Phillips already out, injury to Jamie Shackleton then brought Llorente into the starting XI for the subsequent hosting of Southampton and the Spaniard has not looked back, playing every minute of every game since.
With captain Liam Cooper still out due to illness, Llorente again partnered Pascal Struijk at centre-back in Friday night’s clash at Fulham in which defending at set pieces remained a definite concern.
One of Fulham’s 13 corners led to Joachim Andersen’s equaliser as the Dane out-wrestled Luke Ayling and the Whites defence all at sea.
Defending at set pieces clearly remains a work in progress as United still have comfortably the worst record in the division at defending them having leaked in 15 goals via the method, excluding penalties. That is four worse than Sheffield United.
But set pieces aside, Fulham were kept at bay at Craven Cottage as Lllorente again proved solid at the back whilst also offering a threat offensively.
Llorente was successful with four of his six attempted tackles and only the tireless Jack Harrison offered more from either side with five.
Llorente also offered three clearances and one interception and won two of his four attempted aerial battles.
The Spaniard had 55 touches of the ball and attempted 41 passes, 36 of which were accurate. That led to a passing success rate of 88 per cent which was United’s best.
One of those passes, in the second minute, should also have led to Llorente’s first Whites assist as his superb through ball from defence sent Patrick Bamford in goal.
Bamford was under pressure from Fulham’s Joachim Andersen but still had the opportunity to shoot from a tight angle yet instead opted to back heel the ball to Tyler Roberts only for Tosin Adarabioyo to clear.
A "crazy" decision as Bamford himself called it.
Llorente has offered something offensively in each of his last five outings as the Spaniard had a shot at goal against Chelsea, West Ham, Villa and Southampton.
Yet Llorente was predominantly bought from Real Sociedad to defend and moreover play games, five of which have now arrived in their full duration and in quick succession.
International recognition has quickly followed, despite Llorente having only returned to the Whites team in February after a one month absence.
The defender excelled for Spain when facing Cristiano Ronaldo in a goalless draw against Portugal during the October international break for what was his sixth cap but the centre-back then picked up the first of several injuries.
Just 91 minutes of football followed in the next four and a half months yet Luis Enrique has again named the 27-year-old in his squad for this month’s three World Cup qualifiers.
Spain will first take in a home clash against Greece on Thursday evening before a trip to Georgia just three days later.
Enrique’s side well then host Kosovo next Wednesday - just three days before Leeds are due back in action at home to Sheffield United.
It could be argued that from not having enough games, Llorente is now faced with too many of them.
But given the early injury nightmares, it’s a ‘problem’ United will welcome with open arms.
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Thank you Laura Collins