Marcelo Bielsa on Arsenal loanee Eddie Nketiah's return to fitness for Leeds United and competition for places
Marcelo Bielsa says Eddie Nketiah will have to take it step by step as he works his way back to full fitness to challenge Patrick Bamford for the Leeds United No 9 role.
The Arsenal loanee has already accelerated through the initial steps of his return, joining in with full training on Thursday, playing half of the Under-23s’ game against Sheffield United on Friday and making a cameo off the bench for the first team 24 hours later.
Nketiah’s entrance, 11 minutes from time in a game Leeds were winning 4-0, was another big positive for United.
The head coach is keen to ensure he not only has players who can adapt to unfamiliar positions, but provide competition for each place. It helps that many of his players can do a number of jobs across the pitch – a prime example being Stuart Dallas, who has featured at right-back, left-back and in central midfield this season.
But when the versatility of his first-choice starters isn’t the answer, Bielsa needs to have alternative options.
“It is a long competition,” said Bielsa.
“It is important that we have players who play in a lot of positions, like Pablo Hernandez, Stuart Dallas, Gjanni Alioski.
“Also it’s important to have two options in each positions, both options with the same level.”
Bielsa has often said that Bamford and Nketiah play at a similar level and can do a similar job.
At the weekend, Bamford scored a goal and set one up against his former club to reinforce his claim on the lone striker role, a claim he was set to lose a month ago until Nketiah suffered an abdominal injury on the eve of what would have been his first Championship start after which he missed four games.
Now, it appears, the Gunner will have to be patient once again.
“We are happy that Eddie has come back,” said Bielsa.
“[On Friday] he has played 45 minutes and today he has more minutes and step by step he will get his fitness level back.”