Diego Llorente injury setback adds to Leeds’ defensive worries

Leeds could be without three first-choice central defenders again for Tuesday night’s game at West Brom after Diego Llorente’s latest injury setback.

Marcelo Bielsa was without skipper Liam Cooper, Robin Koch and Llorente for Sunday’s home win against Burnley, but Leeds responded by keeping a rare clean sheet.

Summer signing Llorente had been expected to make his first home appearance for the club, but broke down in training after appearing to have recovered from a muscle strain.

“He had a setback on Wednesday and from there he hasn’t evolved,” Bielsa confirmed. “He stopped being an option for the game (on Saturday).”

Bielsa was unable to say last week when Cooper is expected to recover from an abdominal strain and Koch is in rehab following knee surgery.

Midfielder Kalvin Phillips was deployed in a back three against Burnley alongside Luke Ayling and Pascal Struijk.

That makeshift defence held firm under concerted second-half pressure from Burnley and Bielsa took heart from his side’s first clean sheet in five matches.

“Phillips is player with a big capacity to adapt to playing in different positions on the pitch,” Bielsa said.

“The times where he has had to play as a centre-back in a back-three, every time he has had good responses and played with authority and he did today as well.”

Versatile Dutchman Struijk also showed a cool head under Burnley’s bombardment in his first start since early November.

“Yes, he was very influential and he contributed a lot to our defensive stability in the middle,” Bielsa said.

Leeds climbed three places to 12th after their sixth league win of the season and could finish the year in the top half of the table.

“Our objective was to compete on an even keel with all our opponents in the Premier League, but it’s not an easy task,” Bielsa added.

“For example, if you look at what happened at the end of the second half (against Burnley), in which we had to adapt to a situation which we hadn’t faced up until now.

“The result was in danger. Every game in the Premier League is a big challenge.”

Burnley boss Sean Dyche has his own injury problems with Matej Vydra, Jack Cork and Johann Berg Gudmundsson all expected to remain sidelined for Tuesday’s home game against Sheffield United.

Dwight McNeil (groin) and Robbie Brady (hamstring) also missed out at Elland Road, but both wingers could return to contention.

“With the two games in three days we’ve had to make a judgement call on that,” said Dyche, whose side sit two points above the relegation zone.

“I think they’ve both got a chance so we’ll wait and see what tomorrow brings.”

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