Marcelo Bielsa dazzled by Leeds defensive duo Diego Llorente and Robin Koch

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Mark Walker, PA
·3-min read
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Diego Llorente and Robin Koch’s Premier League displays have been among the highlights of Leeds’ season for head coach Marcelo Bielsa.

Both central defenders have overcome injury since arriving in the summer to leave Bielsa convinced they have big roles to play in the club’s bid to establish themselves in the top flight.

Spain international Llorente was dogged by successive muscle strains after joining from Real Sociedad in September for a reported £18million, but has emerged as a polished and reliable performer.

“He (Llorente) has played well, he hasn’t had any bad games,” said Bielsa, whose side face Liverpool at Elland Road on Monday.

“He’s had a performance level that has improved every single time we have played. He started playing well and from there onwards he’s been playing better.

“Llorente, as well as Koch, in the first part of the season, they have been high points of our season.”

Germany’s Koch, signed for around £13million from Freiburg, recently returned to action after knee surgery and could make his first start since December against Liverpool in the absence of suspended skipper Liam Cooper.

Diego Llorente, right, has impressed Marcelo Bielsa since recovering from a series of muscle strains
Diego Llorente (right) has impressed Marcelo Bielsa since recovering from a series of muscle strains (Tim Goode/PA)

Stuart Dallas has also earned rave reviews this season and the highly versatile Northern Ireland international’s stock rose even higher last weekend when he put the brakes on Manchester City’s title charge with both goals in a shock 2-1 win at the Etihad Stadium.

“The place that Dallas occupies in the team at the moment is the role that (Mateusz) Klich usually had,” Bielsa said, referring to Klich’s recent loss of form.

“In the majority of the games that the team played, he (Klich) was one of the best players in our team.

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“When Dallas started to play in this position he started to show different ways of playing in it.

“To score goals was a clear expectation when he started to play in this position and as the minutes go by he manages to have a marked influence or definition in the finalisation of our chances.”

Luke Ayling is expected to wear the captain’s armband on Monday as Cooper starts a three-game ban for his red card against City.

“There’s nothing better than for the players themselves to choose who is going to conduct their behaviour,” Bielsa added.

Luke Ayling is expected to wear the captain's armband in Liam Cooper's absence
Luke Ayling is expected to wear the captain’s armband in Liam Cooper’s absence (Alex Panting/PA)

“Ayling has all the capabilities to be a leader and a conductor for the team. For me, he has the most important virtue.

“He doesn’t speak too much and he acts in the way it should be. He leads by example.”

Leeds, 10th in the table, are aiming for a fourth straight Premier League win for the first time in 20 years, while Liverpool are also chasing a fourth consecutive league victory in pursuit of a top-four finish.