Marcelo Bielsa’s defensive conundrum: How might Leeds United line up against Newcastle United?

With Pascal Struijk suspended and Robin Koch and Diego Llorente both struggling with injury, here are some of the defensive options available to Marcelo Bielsa as the Whites take on the Magpies.

Wednesday, 15th September 2021, 3:04 pm
Updated Wednesday, 15th September 2021, 3:06 pm
Liam Cooper. Pic: Getty

Given Koch's recent pelvic issue and the sight of Diego Llorente leaving the pitch with a hamstring injury on Sunday, the FA's decision not to overturn Pascal Struijk's suspension leaves Bielsa with just one natural senior centre-back, captain Liam Cooper, available for selection.

In spite of the dent to his personnel, Bielsa has a few options available to him as he prepares a makeshift defence to appear at St James’ Park on Friday night, though his decision will largely depend on how Steve Bruce decides to set out his own players.

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Bruce has been inclined to shape up with a 5-3-2 this season, which would invite Bielsa to play three at the back in line with the Argentinian’s perennial preference to outnumber opponents’ strikers.

In this instance, we are likely to see Kalvin Phillips drop into the back line alongside Luke Ayling and Liam Cooper, flanked by wingbacks Junior Firpo and Jamie Shackleton.

That would leave Dallas in the middle, with either Rodrigo or Mateusz Klich taking on the number 10 role behind a nailed-on front three of Raphinha, Patrick Bamford and Jack Harrison.

Alternatively we could see Stuart Dallas in place of Jamie Shackleton at right wingback while Mateusz Klich and Rodrigo take charge in the middle of the park.

Luke Ayling. Pic: Getty

However, should Bruce elect to carry on with the 5-4-1 shape he deployed at Old Trafford at the weekend, Marcelo Bielsa would trust centre-back pairing Liam Cooper and Luke Ayling alone with the responsibility of handling lone striker Allain St-Maximin.

If Bruce did repeat the formation which lined up against Manchester United then Bielsa would likely opt for a more familiar shape, keeping Phillips at CDM and bringing in Dallas or Shackleton at right-back to replace Ayling, who shuffles centrally to assist captain Cooper.

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Steve Bruce. Pic: Getty
Jamie Shackleton. Pic: Getty