Marcelo Bielsa has named Pontus Jansson as Leeds United’s top performer this season - but could stick with an “indispensable” Gaetano Berardi as the club attempt to secure their place in the play-off final at Wembley.
Bielsa took the unusual step of singling out a member of his squad for specific praise, saying Sweden international Jansson had been “our best player in the Championship” over the course of nine months.
Jansson made the PFA’s team of the year on the strength of his performances under Bielsa, despite starting the season on the bench behind Berardi.
Berardi’s run in the side was curtailed by knee and hamstring injuries and Bielsa has relied on Jansson and Liam Cooper as his regular partnership in the centre of defence.
An ankle injury forced Jansson to miss Saturday’s play-off semi-final first leg against Derby County and the defender is fighting to prove his fitness in time for tomorrow’s return fixture at Elland Road.
Berardi stepped into the breach at Pride Park and a convincing performance against a Derby side who failed to produce a shot on target will give Bielsa a dilemma if both players are available to start with Cooper.
Bielsa said: “These players have two ways of interpreting the same role. What we see about Jansson is his physical strength. He has a big capacity to express his presence in a game. With Berardi he has a manner which is not usual for a centre-back.
“Jansson has been our best player in the Championship over the season and Berardi has been an indispensable player but we couldn’t count on him when he was absent. Both are compatible, we need them both and we can rely on them.”
Berardi has made only a handful of outings since tearing a hamstring in October but he turned in a big display at Derby, denying David Nugent an early goal with the crucial sliding block.
Cooper, who played alongside him on Saturday, said: “It was no surprise to me.
“Berra’s been unfortunate with injuries and he had such a bad injury that it should have been operated on. He decided against it to get back in time and that’s the man he is. He wears his heart on his sleeve.
“He’s been different class all season and he’s a pleasure to play with, as is Pontus.”
United’s player-of-the-year award went to Pablo Hernandez while Liam Cooper and Kalvin Phillips were both included in the EFL’s official team of the year.
Jansson, Cooper and Hernandez all featured in the PFA’s end-of-season XI.