Three inclusions in Leeds United’s matchday squad and two exclusions from the pitch were probably justifiable in Liam Cooper’s eyes, but a third snub may have smarted. In Sunday’s 60th minute, in the eye of the bewildering storm Crystal Palace were swirling, Javi Gracia turned to his bench for answers.
Left-back Junior Firpo, fresh from a bout of medical treatment and carrying a yellow card, was one of the lambs Gracia wanted to sacrifice. The only other player in the squad with meaningful experience in that position this season was Pascal Struijk.
Shuffling Struijk outside would not have been too difficult to do given Gracia had his club captain and left-sided centre-back specialist on the bench. The Spaniard would overlook his dressing room general and go for Rasmus Kristensen, Gracia’s nominated utility man in recent weeks.
Rather than shift Struijk over and play two left-footed defenders in their natural roles, Gracia preferred shoehorning a right-back onto the other side of the pitch. There is no doubt Michael Olise would have caused problems for Struijk, but the Dutchman would have at least had some familiarity with defending that side of the field.
“Junior had a yellow card and, in that moment, with the open game, with Olise with many spaces, they will be dangerous and I tried to put one player fresh there and Rasmus can play,” he said. “As you know, we've spoken many times about Rasmus, Rasmus can play in different positions and that was my decision better than other.”
Max Wober will possibly return to contention ahead of Liverpool’s Elland Road visit, throwing another left-sided defender into Gracia’s mix. After Sunday’s third blank in four, Cooper could be wondering when or where his chance is coming down the home straight.