Spotlight on Leo Hjelde's first Leeds United impact which is harmonious with Victor Orta action

Leo Hjelde and Lewis Bate were the latest academy players thrown into the Leeds United starting line-up to make their debuts at West Ham United last Sunday.

By Tom Morley
Friday, 14th January 2022, 10:40 am

And it was the Norwegian defender who was arguably Leeds’ best player at the London Stadium, looking calm and composed with the ball and winning his aerial battles well.

One moment that stood out was the brilliant challenge from behind on Nikola Vlasic moments before the Hammers controversially took the lead.

Hjelde signed from Celtic in the summer, a highly-rated centre-back in Glasgow who spent time on loan at Ross County before moving to Marcelo Bielsa’s side.

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IMPRESSIVE DEBUT: Eighteen-year-old Leeds United defender Leo Hjelde, right, challenges West Ham's Nikola Vlasic upon his Whites debut during Sunday's third round FA Cup clash at West Ham. Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images.

He was physical on Sunday and marshalled the nuisance of Michail Antonio well alongside defensive partner Diego Llorente in a game where Leeds had to stand up against a strong West Ham side containing the likes of Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek.

Hjelde was tracked at length by Leeds’ director of football Victor Orta and, after his performance at the weekend, it is easy to see why the Nottingham-born Norwegian was so sought after.

Hjelde’s debut lasted 77 minutes, with many Leeds fans expecting him to start given the recent injury woes that plague Bielsa and his side - club captain Liam Cooper, Pascal Struijk and youngster Charlie Creswell all injured and Robin Koch deployed into midfield in the absence of Kalvin Phillips and Adam Forshaw.

According to LeedsAllOver, Hjelde made 11 ball recoveries, won nine duals and made three clearances, showcasing how well he was able to deal with the physicality and trickery of an attacking quartet of Jarrod Bowen, Manuel Lanzini, Vlasic and Antonio.

Another opportunity could now be on the cards with Llorente suspended and Koch looking likely to vacate the midfield for Forshaw and dropping back into centre-half, meaning Hjelde is well placed to start again at the London Stadium this Sunday.

Leeds are oozing talent at centre-back, with Llorente, Koch, Cooper and Struijk all playing there, backed up by impressive youngsters Hjelde and Cresswell.

Hjelde is certainly one for the future, another gem unearthed by Orta and Leeds, and he could still have a big part to play in the rest of United’s season.

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Thank you Laura Collins