Luke Ayling is set to hand Leeds United a big pre-Christmas boost by starting at Aston Villa on Sunday but Izzy Brown is facing up to four weeks out after an untimely injury set-back.
Ayling will be part of United’s matchday squad for the first time since injuring a knee in October and head coach Marcelo Bielsa revealed that he would “probably” start on the right side of defence at Villa Park.
Ayling, Leeds’ first-choice right-back for the past two seasons, has been missing for two months but is stepping back into the fray without the need for a single outing with the club’s Under-23s.
Bielsa, who has been without him since a 1-1 draw with Nottingham Forest on October 27, said Ayling’s physical condition was defying the length of his absence and confirmed that he would make the trip to Villa for United’s last game before Christmas.
“Honestly, when we see him now we don’t think that he’s been out for such a long time,” Bielsa said. “He’ll be in the group for sure and he will probably be a starter.”
Ayling is rejoining Bielsa’s squad at a time when Leeds are a point clear at the top of the Championship and controlling the fight for automatic promotion.
Brown, however, has seen his first-team comeback delayed by a hamstring strain suffered in a development-squad game against Barnsley at Thorp Arch on Monday.
The on-loan Chelsea midfielder underwent scans the following day and will see his recovery stretch into January, denying him any chance of a return over the Christmas period.
Brown has been working his way back from ACL surgery he underwent during a loan at Brighton in January and he is yet to make a first-team appearance for Leeds.
United signed him August on a season-long loan from Stamford Bridge but knew at the outset that the remainder of Brown’s rehabilitation was likely to run until around the turn of the year.
Brown has been in full training for a number of weeks but his withdrawal after half-an-hour of Leeds’ Under-23s clash with Barnsley - his fourth outing with the development squad - held him back in the same week that United allowed fellow number 10 Samuel Saiz to quit Elland Road for Spanish club Getafe.
Bielsa said: “He has a problem which will take three or four weeks to solve. I’m disappointed and sad that this happened.
“It’s very common for players who haven’t played for a long time to have more problems but I see he is strong mentally, with a lot of enthusiasm.”
United’s boss is still without captain Liam Cooper and Gaetano Berardi, although Cooper made an early return to training after knee surgery this week.
The centre-back will not be involved at Villa Park and is due to take part in Josh Warrington’s ringwalk before the Leeds fighter’s IBF featherweight title clash with Carl Frampton in Manchester on Saturday evening.
“He came back but he needs two weeks more,” Bielsa said.