Marcelo Bielsa may have new solution to long-standing Leeds United problem

  • by

Leo Hjelde was one of the latest youngsters to make their Leeds United debut under Marcelo Bielsa, as he started at centre-back against West Ham in the FA Cup.

Leeds’ injury headaches have been present from the start of the season and while the centre-back slot is arguably the best-covered position, that hasn’t stopped the need for under-23s to step in.

Pascal Struijk has passed pretty much every test thrown at him since promotion, and Charlie Cresswell has too.

Up next was Norwegian summer signing Leo Hjelde, who started alongside Diego Llorente in a much-changed Leeds side against West Ham in the FA Cup with the hosts virtually at full-strength.

Up against Michail Antonio, Hjelde put up some impressive numbers:

A first senior appearance is always going to be a challenge, especially for a centre-back in a side awash with changes.

However, Hjelde’s 83 minutes at the London Stadium promises a lot for his future.

In charge of silencing Antonio, Hjelde did his job.

11 recoveries, four interceptions and three out of four loose-ball duels highlighted how on the pulse he was in a game likely to test his readiness for senior action.

He let very little slip and at just 18-years-old, he demonstrated a lot of maturity that makes him a genuine option that fans wouldn’t be displeased with seeing if it came down to him in the pecking order.

His duel success in general isn’t at staggering heights but we can’t begrudge him from losing one or two challenges against a seasoned striker who makes a fool of plenty of centre-backs.

Hjelde’s passing was largely solid as he kept things ticking over, while his progressive efforts might have been rough around the edges when looking to find ways into the final third, but that’s understandable when we’re experimenting with first starts for Lewis Bate and Sam Greenwood.

The biggest bonus of Hjelde’s impressive debut?

The tall Norwegian might not be high in Bielsa’s list of viable centre-back options, but with him in the middle and Luke Ayling at right-back, it was proof that he should be played there ahead of the vice-captain.

Ayling’s stints at centre-back are more out of necessity than preference, but we all know he’s better on the right side of defence, bombing past whichever winger is in front of him.

So, yet another option emerging and passing his first test admirably means we surely don’t have to play Ayling out of position anymore.

Calling upon an 18-year-old centre-back in the Premier League might not be something Bielsa will want to do, but it trumps having to weaken two positions by shifting Ayling out of his comfort zone.