Leeds United leader Luke Ayling out in front in Premier League's race to 100

Leeds United defender Luke Ayling is out in front in the Premier League's race to 100 with four games to go.

Thursday, 6th May 2021, 5:27 pm
Updated Thursday, 6th May 2021, 5:32 pm

The right-back, who has stepped inside to play centre-back when needed during the Whites' first top-flight campaign since 2004, has been a busy man against elite attackers.

Given his post-promotion admission that he didn't know if he was good enough to play in the Premier League, Ayling has more than held his own.

On the ball he has helped get Leeds up the pitch quickly and efficiently and by the end of April was leading his team for touches, ball carries, successful passes and nutmegs - the former Yeovil man had nipped the ball through the legs of opponents six times before Saturday's clash with Brighton.

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Off the ball he was ranked first at Leeds for ball recoveries, blocks and, with the aid of his patented Ayling Flop, has won a grand total of 50 free-kicks for Marcelo Bielsa's Whites.

Another chart he tops, not only at Leeds United but across the entire Premier League, is for successful tackles.

His tally of 94, from an attempted 130, puts him three ahead of Brighton man Yves Bissouma and six ahead of Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, who visits Elland Road with Tottenham Hotspur this weekend.

With four games remaining Ayling is some way short of the 175 tackles Ngolo Kante produced in the 2015/16 Premier League season, or even last season's high of 129 from Manchester United man Aaron Wan-Bissaka, but in each of the four seasons that preceded Leeds' return to the top tier no more than six players have hit the 100 mark for successful tackles.

TOP TACKLER - Leeds United leader Luke Ayling has made more successful tackles than any other Premier League player this season. Pic: Getty

Ayling alone makes up a huge chunk of the 653 tackles that have put Leeds top of the Premier League team rankings and he has done so without giving away a huge number of fouls - just 26 according to Whoscored.com.

What it says about the 29-year-old is that a lot of play comes his way, as you would expect for a full-back and a defender, particularly in a team that can leave space behind when they go raiding upfield, but it also speaks of the intensity he brings to games, refusing to allow opponents to settle on the ball, breaking up attacks and helping to regain possession.

His success at tackling opponents is as much about nous and timing as it is a will to get stuck in.

There's no rest for the wicked and this weekend will provide another stern test for the player released as a teen by Arsenal, when the attacking might of Spurs come to town.

Last time out against Tottenham, when he made just one tackle in the 3-0 defeat in London, he was quick to defend his team-mates and point out their Premier League inexperience.

“Us boys are still learning in this league and we have been caught out a few times," he said.

"We are learning the hard way a lot of times, so we will keep learning and trying to put it right. Most of us are still only 17 games in, it takes a while to settle down and I think we are doing alright.

“We’ve got 23 points, it’s still a good start, now we need to make sure it’s a good middle and ending, so it’s only a start.”

Going into the return fixture against Spurs, Ayling and Leeds now sit on 47 points, just nine fewer than their visitors. It can already be said that they've settled down and tackled the Premier League very well indeed.