Marcelo Bielsa's favourite Leeds United understudy set for recall after blunt admission

By Joe Donnohue

Leeds United's 3-0 defeat to Liverpool on Sunday afternoon was not the finest hour for Marcelo Bielsa's defence.

Diego Llorente limped off after just 30 minutes, before his replacement Pascal Struijk was shown a straight red card for a full-blooded but unintentionally-fierce challenge on Harvey Elliott.

All the while, the visitors scored two well-worked goals and turned a scrappy penalty box melee beyond Illan Meslier to secure all three points.

With just a matter of days until Leeds' next Premier League contest, Marcelo Bielsa may be forced to ring the changes at the back.

The Argentine is not a manager who elects to make widespread alterations to his starting XI unless his hand is forced.

However, this may well be one of those situations, if Struijk's suspension is expectedly upheld and Llorente does not overcome the injury he sustained at Elland Road.

The Spaniard did post an update on his Instagram account on Monday morning indicating his hamstring complaint wasn't as severe as first feared.

READ MORE: Diego Llorente provides fitness update following Liverpool substitution.

But, the centre-back's injury history and the manner in which Bielsa's medical staff have recuperated him previously suggests he will not be risked away to Newcastle United - the scene of an all-too-premature Llorente substitution last season.

Diego Llorente clutches his hamstring as he is forced off injured against Liverpool (Laurence Griffiths)

Bielsa was non-committal when asked about the possibility of appealing Pascal Struijk's red card in his post-match press conference yesterday.

This could mean the Argentine is already preparing for life without Struijk.

The most likely solution to Struijk and Llorente's joint absence would ordinarily be Robin Koch, but it is now approaching a month since the German last took to the field for Leeds United.

His prolonged absence with what initially appeared to be a minor pelvic injury, has ruled him out for three, going on four, weeks.

Robin Koch of Leeds United. (Mark Cosgrove/News Images)

Consequently, Marcelo Bielsa may be forced to shuffle Luke Ayling across into central defence, as was often the case last season.

For that reason, a position opens up at full-back which will need to be filled by either Stuart Dallas or Jamie Shackleton.

Dallas' importance in midfield could mean it is Shackleton who is given the nod.

The 21-year-old featured prominently in that position during pre-season, impressing against Blackburn Rovers and Real Betis, while linking up well with Raphinha on the right flank.

Shackleton's last Premier League start came away to Wolverhampton Wanderers back in February. His only start this campaign has been in the 3-0 League Cup triumph over Crewe Alexandra, where he also played right-back.

Over the summer, Shackleton's form in friendlies posed Bielsa with something of a headache - albeit the type he would like to have.

His performances in defence were deserving of greater first-team involvement, something he has been afforded in flashes with substitute appearances against Everton and Burnley so far this season.

However, a prolonged stint in the side has eluded him, minutes restricted by Luke Ayling's position as undisputed starter and the 30-year-old's susceptibility to injury, which is close to nil.

Shackleton told LeedsLive following his performance against Betis in July that he hoped to earn more minutes this season, wherever that may be.

"On the pitch," the midfielder-cum-right-back said, having been asked where he hoped to play in 2021/22.

Shackleton's bluntness was inadvertent, but reflected his honesty. With close to 70 first-team appearances, but only 20 starts, Shackleton is still trying to break into the starting XI on a regular basis.

At St James' Park, he may get that opportunity of a rare Premier League start.

However, with Struijk's ban only a handful of games, as well as Llorente and Koch's respective injuries not regarded as serious, it won't be long before Ayling shuffles back across to his natural right-sided berth.

To remain in the picture, Shackleton will need to channel a strong performance to convince Marcelo Bielsa that persevering with him in a starting capacity would not be so detrimental.


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