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Having found his way into the Leeds United back line, he’s won plaudits for his performance against Brighton and then won a call-up to the Scottish national side. Everything was looking rosy for centre-back Liam Cooper.
Football has a way of bringing you crashing right back down to earth, however, and Cooper is now finding this out having been banned for 6 matches after stamping Reese Oxford in their match with Reading at the Madejski Stadium.
Effectively, that ban has ended Cooper’s season and with Leeds having lost 2 games in a row, their season is in danger of crashing down. There are ways for Leeds to cope without the talented young defender and today’s win over Preston North End exactly shows us how to do it.
In all fairness, Kyle Bartley and Pontus Jansson have played most of the season together as the first choice central defensive pair anyway.
Asking them to carry would hardly be surprising. However, they can afford no more injuries or suspensions. Surely at this stage of the campaign, hard work on the training ground is not something that is needed to ensure players are sharp. 44 games for Bartley and 31 for Jansson already this season (prior to the Preston game) should have done that for them and so it could be a case of ‘less is more’ at the moment.
Now could be the moment to reduce training right down to light jogging, stretching and set-pieces to ensure neither player is harmed physically. Should Leeds find their way to a two-goal lead in any upcoming games, Garry Monk can even bring one of these players off, in order to protect them.
Naturally, as fellow right-backs, it tends to be one or the other when it comes to picking Gaetano Berardi or Luke Ayling in the Leeds side.
For his part though, Ayling is more than capable of playing as a central defender and so should either Bartley or Jansson be unavailable, he can step inside and can be replaced out wide by Berardi. The former Swiss international is more than capable in that position.
Continuity could be the key for Leeds during the remainder of the season so, even though a small reshuffle would be needed, drafting in a right-back with 24 games under his belt and moving 38-game Ayling across the line would be preferable than to bring in a young centre-back at such a crucial time.