Leeds United v Middlesbrough: Jansson 'close to potential' as Bielsa faces conundrum at centre-back

CLOSE TO HIS POTENTIAL: Pontus Jansson.
CLOSE TO HIS POTENTIAL: Pontus Jansson.
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MARCELO BIELSA believes Pontus Jansson is already back nearing his best just three games into his Leeds United return as the head coach faces the prospect of a welcome defensive headache.

Jansson's start to the new campaign has been disrupted by first a late return to training after World Cup duty with Sweden and then a back injury which the defender suffered in the run-up to the 2-2 Championship draw at Swansea City.

But the 27-year-old was quickly restored to the Whites starting line up for last Saturday's 3-0 win at Norwich City with Jansson again playing the full 90 minutes of Tuesday night's 2-0 loss at home to Preston North End in the Carabao Cup as part of a contest for which Bielsa named a much-changed side.

With captain Liam Cooper sidelined with a hamstring injury, Jansson partnered Gaetano Berardi at centre-back against Norwich and Berardi himself has excelled in the new position over the early stages of this season with the Swiss footballer starting all five of United's league games.

Bielsa will soon have a decision to make with club captain Cooper having now recovered from his hamstring injury and back in contention for tonight's top-of-the-table clash against Middlesbrough at Elland Road.

When all three are fit, Bielsa will be looking at two from three out of Jansson, Cooper and Berardi with the head coach clearly pleased with what he has seen from Jansson so far.

"He was one of the two best players in the last two games," said Bielsa, asked about Jansson's return from World Cup duty and a back injury.

"He didn’t do the work we did in pre-season and so far he has played three games.

"And in these three games he played at a level close to his potential."

Bielsa has already praised Berardi's contribution this season - applauding the 30-year-old's work at centre back - and United's head coach is suddenly looking at the prospect of having his three first choice centre backs available given Cooper's return to training.

"If he comes back it will be a plus for the team," said Bielsa of Cooper ahead of tonight's clash at Elland Road.

"He’s our captain and he’s a courageous player, an important player and if he can’t play we have other options for the position and these options have the same qualities."

Writing in his captain's column of Tuesday night's programme notes ahead of the Carabao Cup clash with Preston, Cooper put: "We have real competition for places here and a lot of quality throughout the squad.

"I know I'm going to have to work really hard to earn my place back in the side."