Kalvin Phillips welcomed the imminent return of the attacking class of Kemar Roofe and Pablo Hernandez but claimed Leeds United’s results in the face of multiple injuries had answered questions about the club’s strength in depth.
Roofe and Hernandez are back in training after missing the whole of the second month of the season and the pair could be joined by defender Gaetano Berardi in making a comeback during Leeds’ next league game at Blackburn Rovers in a week's time.
All three players - mainstays in head coach Marcelo Bielsa’s starting line-up before their injury problems - have been absent since the end of August but are pushing to make the squad against Blackburn having resumed work with United’s squad at Thorp Arch.
Roofe and Hernandez had a hand in a combined total of 11 league goals before Roofe was sidelined by a calf problem and Hernandez pulled a hamstring. Berardi, meanwhile, featured at centre-back in a solid defence but suffered minor damage to a knee ligament in a 0-0 draw with Middlesbrough on August 31.
Bielsa has been forced to cope without them for six consecutive matches, bringing Tyler Roberts, Jack Harrison and Pontus Jansson into his side, but Leeds took 10 points from those fixtures and arrived at the start of this international break in third place in the Championship.
Midfielder Phillips, who has been ever present in every competition so far, said: “They all look well. We did a tough session yesterday and they’re looking sharp and fit. It’s just about getting that match sharpness now.
“The calibre of the players that Pablo and Kemar are, that’s going to strengthen any squad. With them coming back after the international break, and with tough games coming up, we’ve got a really good chance of hitting the ground running and getting some good results.”
Bielsa’s selection issues were complicated further by a hamstring strain suffered by left-back Barry Douglas in a 1-0 win at Hull City last week. Douglas is yet to start training again and is a doubt for the trip to Ewood Park on October 20.
Right-back Luke Ayling is a confirmed absentee from the Blackburn game having received a one-match ban for his red card in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Brentford. Striker Patrick Bamford and on-loan Chelsea midfielder Izzy Brown are still recovering from longer-term injuries.
Bielsa made a conscious decision at the start of the season to attack the Championship with a slim squad, raising questions about the impact that injuries and suspensions might have on the club’s league position.
“You always miss key players but I feel like the players who’ve come in have been exceptional,” Phillips.
“Tyler Roberts has done really well, Jack Harrison’s done really well. That’s down to the people in the changing room and how hard working they are; how humble they are if they’re not playing week in, week out. It shows how focused they are and how much they want to play.
“Touch wood, there are no more injuries but if there are then we’ve got players to step in and do a job. It goes to show how good a squad we’ve got, and the depth of it.”
Roofe, Hernandez and Berardi could all feature in this afternoon’s Under-23 league game against Burnley at Elland Road, which kicks off at 1pm.