Spotlight on Kiko Casilla and what next for Leeds United's Spanish goalkeeper

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LEEDS United's Spanish 'keeper Kiko Casilla could have offered reassurance with his performance against Crawley Town yet instead prompted more concerns.

Casilla's start in Sunday's third round FA Cup tie offered the 34-year-old a first Whites outing since he was handed a place in the Leeds XI for the EFL Cup tie at home to Hull City in September.

United were dumped out of the competition after losing 9-8 on penalties following a 1-1 draw though there was little Casilla could have done about Mallik Wilks' deflected opener.

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Casilla actually made some important saves in the contest and also scored in the shootout yet French stopper Illan Meslier soon resumed his place in the side as first choice 'keeper for United's Premier League games.

RARE CHANCE: For Leeds United goalkeeper Kiko Casilla against Crawley Town. Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images.RARE CHANCE: For Leeds United goalkeeper Kiko Casilla against Crawley Town. Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images.
RARE CHANCE: For Leeds United goalkeeper Kiko Casilla against Crawley Town. Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images.

Sunday's clash in West Sussex offered Casilla a fresh chance to impress after a difficult last year and a half featuring a string of mistakes in between the sticks and the long drawn out allegations of racist remarks towards striker Jonathan Leko.

Casillla found himself suspended for eight games and fined £60,000 in February 2020 after the FA found him guilty of using racist language in the 1-0 loss at Charlton Athletic the previous September.

That meant Casilla losing his place to Meslier and there has been no way back since given the impressive nature of the 20-year-old French stopper, especially given the potential for any amount of improvement after such a small tally of games.

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Sunday's FA Cup tie at least offered the chance for Casilla to lay down some sort of challenge and the Spaniard looked solid enough during a first half in which he was never seriously threatened until the closing stages.

A couple of early Crawley corners spelled potential danger given United's recent record at set pieces yet Casilla cleared both with his second punch to see of the second particularly commanding.

Only Casilla's goalkeeping then prevented Crawley from taking a lead into the break with the Spaniard managing to keep out a firm header from Tom Nichols from point-blank range.

Yet old habits returned to haunt in the second half with Casilla beaten too easily for Crawley's first two goals and lucky not to concede a fourth after haring off his line in scenes reminiscent of what has been seen before.

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Nick Tsaroulla's 50th-minute opener was not particularly down to a goalkeeping blunder yet Casilla was still beaten too easily towards his left hand side with the ball not exactly fired into the far corner.

But Ashley Nadesan's strike to make it 2-0 three minutes later was also reminiscent of many previous blunders with Casilla beaten far too easily from a tight angle at his near post.

In his defence, Nadesan's low shot hit a big divet on the turf and then bobbled up over where the Spaniard looked to be intending to make his save.

But there is no denying Casilla should have done better and even after Jordan Tunnicliffe netted Crawley's third, things could have got worse.

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Casilla initially saved a powerful volley from Nadesan from a set piece that led to Tunnicliffe's goal and the Spaniard had little chance from close range as Tunicliffe walloped the ball into the roof of the net after pouncing on the rebound.

But Casilla also tipped a Sam Matthews effort around the corner of the post with a worrying lack of assurance and then came racing off his line later looking to clear a long ball that young defender Oliver Casey failed to deal with.

The speedy Max Watters beat both United men to the ball and Watters really should have scored but instead dithered with his shot which was blocked by Casey.

The whole incident was reminiscent of the moment when Casilla came tearing off his line in the play-off semi-final at home to Derby County that led to Jack Marriot putting the Rams back in the game and ultimately en route to victory.

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Big question marks hovered over Casilla after that miserable end to the season but the Spaniard hit back to make 35 league outings the following season before losing his place to Meslier.

One more league start then presented itself in the 3-1 win at Derby in which Leeds celebrated the Championship title.

Casilla has not played in the league since and unless something happens to Meslier it's difficult to see when his next outing will be with the Whites out of both cups.

Indeed, it could be argued that United's 19-year-old Italian 'keeper Elia Caprile would be worth a shot over and above Casilla who might have blotted his copybook one time too often.

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Casilla, who has one cap with Spain to his name, is a triple Champions League winning goalkeeper with Real Madrid and recorded 15 clean sheets in 43 outings for the Spanish giants which resulted in the concession of 50 goals.

With Real Madrid having signed Casilla from Espanyol, Casilla has played a total of 140 games in La Liga, producing 47 clean sheets and conceding 172.

In the interest of balance, it is worth highlighting that Casilla has also kept 20 Championship clean sheets from 53 outings for Leeds which have resulted in the concession of 49 goals.

The Spaniard has made some terrific saves during his time at Leeds but there is no getting away from the continued string of blunders such as completely failing to control a simple square back pass in last season's Championship clash at Brentford which led to Said Benrahma's opener in a 1-1 draw.

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That error came just three days after being beaten at his near post by a Sammy Ameobi drive in the 2-0 loss at Nottingham Forest on the back of conceding straight from a corner in the 1-0 loss at home to Wigan Athletic.

In fairness, Casilla then produced the perfect response to those three games by keeping three consecutive clean sheets in the 1-0 wins against Bristol City, Reading and Middlesbrough - after which his ban landed.

Yet despite the breaks since, Casilla's confidence still looks very fragile and whilst every 'keeper makes mistakes there are just too many errors.

Bielsa, though, has always been loyal to his players and it remains to be seen what the future holds with the transfer window open until 11pm on February 1.

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The bigger picture is the fact that Casilla, who will be 35 in October, is still contracted at Leeds until the summer of 2023 having signed a four-and-a-half-year deal when joining the club in January 2019 on a wage in excess of £30,000 a week.

Casilla was brought in to essentially solve United's goalkeeping problems yet Meslier has instead proved the answer and the jury is out on what happens next.

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