Leeds United are facing up to the loss of captain Liam Cooper after Marcelo Bielsa confirmed that the defender had suffered a potentially serious knee injury against Sheffield United.
Cooper was helped from the field in the first half of Leeds’ 1-0 win at Bramall Lane and is facing time on the sidelines in a set-back which further stretches Bielsa’s defensive resources.
The centre-back, who hurt a knee in Leeds’ 2-0 win over Bristol City seven days earlier, went down off the ball as Leeds dealt with a Sheffield United attack in the 19th minute.
Leeds are set to send Cooper for scans to establish if he will require surgery and despite Bielsa ruling out the possibility of ligament damage, United’s head coach fears that the 27-year-old could be missing for some time.
“It’s an important injury,” Bielsa said. “I’d prefer the medical staff to tell you this but it’s not a ligament injury. It’s a muscular one so it’s the least serious injury of these two but it’s still serious.”
Cooper punched the turf in frustration as he was treated by United’s physio staff, a sign of his concern about the extent of the damage to his knee, and Bielsa admitted the loss of his club captain was a major blow.
Cooper, who held the armband last season, retained the captaincy after United appointed Bielsa in the summer and he has missed just one league game this term, a 2-2 draw at Swansea City in August.
“I agree it would be an important loss for the team,” Bielsa said. “But at the same time, other defenders were important too when they were injured. We could compensate for it.”
Bielsa’s options at the back have been restricted by the absence of Luke Ayling and Gaetano Berardi, both of whom are out until the new year, and 20-year-old Finn Aapo Halme stepped into replace Cooper at Bramall Lane.
Halme - a January signing from HJK Helsinki - was drafted into Bielsa’s starting side from the Under-23s against Bristol City last weekend and turned in a mature display at Sheffield United after replacing Cooper earlier on.
“He had a balanced game and he was not worried by the importance of the game,” Bielsa said. “He played at a good level when he had to play aerial balls and recover the ball.”