Robin Koch making good on his vow in different position as fellow centre-half shines for Leeds United Under 23s
Robin Koch produced a promising display in a midfield role on his return from knee surgery for Leeds United Under 23s.
The German international last played in December, when a collision early in the game against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge worsened the knee damage he first sustained in the season opener at Liverpool.
Koch was able to play games for club and country despite the initial injury, not missing a minute for his new club in the opening 10 fixtures, but after Chelsea the only option was knee surgery.
Marcelo Bielsa included the centre-back among his substitutes for the game at the weekend, ironically enough against Chelsea, but did not need to rush him back into first team action.
Instead, Koch got a run out for Mark Jackson's 23s against Newcastle at Thorp Arch today and made good on his vow to return by the spring.
He looked sharp, too, in the holding midfield role in front of a centre-half pairing of Gaetano Berardi, another who has recently returned following knee surgery, and Charlie Cresswell.
Although his eagerness and perhaps a little rust when it came to timing led to two early Newcastle free-kicks, Koch looked comfortable in and out of possession for the most part.
He pressed high up the pitch to win the ball in the final third when he could and made a vital defensive header inside six minutes as Newcastle put pressure on the hosts.
A brave and perfectly-timed sliding tackle denied the visitors an early goal and he soon got his passing going, as well as showcasing nifty footwork to escape a clutch of Newcastle midfielders and start a Leeds attack. Jackson withdrew the former SC Freiburg man at the break.
Behind him, Cresswell shone in the first half, scoring with a thumping header from an Ian Poveda corner and producing some highlight-reel skill to dance through a pair of attackers and stride into space. With Pascal Struijk proving perfectly adequate for the Premier League and four senior centre-backs available to Bielsa, Cresswell ensured his name will not be forgotten in the conversation surrounding Leeds' depth in that area.
For Koch, game time will be crucial in the remainder of the 20/21 season, if he is to feature for his country in the delayed Euro 2020 Championships. Bielsa used his 13th centre-half partnership of the campaign on Saturday and although captain Liam Cooper is currently ill, will have some big decisions ahead on who to feature at the heart of his defence.