Marcelo Bielsa heaps praise on Leeds United captain Liam Cooper ahead of Derby County return

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Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa has praised club captain Liam Cooper believing the centre-back "always makes the team stronger".

The 27-year-old is expected to make his comeback from a knee injury on Friday evening against Derby County following a lengthy absence.

Leeds United club captain Liam Cooper.

Leeds United club captain Liam Cooper.

Cooper hobbled out of the 1-0 victory over Sheffield United on December 1 with the issue requiring emergency surgery in Italy.

The centre-back made his return to training before Christmas but missed out on the Whites busy festive period before making his first appearance in over five weeks on Monday evening.

United boss Bielsa oversaw Cooper's 65-minute display at Hull City for the Under-23s in the Professional Development League and admits is now looking forward to his return to senior action.

"I went to see the game on Monday versus Hull City," Bielsa revealed.

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"He played an hour. He is in good conditions to come back to the team. He has a very good first pass, he is good in the aerial balls, he is our captain and he deserves to be our captain.

"When he’s inside the team he always makes the team stronger."

United have made a habit of conceding goals from set-pieces in recent games but Bielsa believes that Cooper's return can help shore up one of the best Championship defences so far this season.

"Yes, he is an addition to it," Bielsa said when asked out the answer to solving his set-piece problems.

"When these players play, [Luke] Ayling, [Pontus] Jansson, Berardi, Phillips, Cooper, we had five very good headers. Of course, we have an order among these five.

"When you don’t have Berardi, Cooper, Ayling and Phillips this affects the team."