If you wanted to put Fantasy Premier League (FPL) managers off selecting a club’s defensive assets in their initial squads you couldn’t do anything much more discouraging than giving them an opening fixture at the scene of their heaviest defeat in the previous season.
However, a lot has changed for Leeds United since Scott McTominay put Manchester United 2-0 up within three minutes at Old Trafford on the way to a 6-2 win last Christmas and last season’s Premier League runners-up can expect much tougher resistance as they open the new campaign looking for three points at home.
An indicator of how far Marcelo Bielsa’s side have acclimatised to the Premier League was the way their man-markers were better able to hand off responsibilities and suppress the visitors’ passing lanes to forge a 0-0 draw in the return at Elland Road in April.
Although their defence performed erratically, especially early on, Leeds also registered 12 clean sheets including four out of six against their first three upcoming opponents of 2021/22. The better result for Leeds in either of the games they played last season against teams they face early in this one were as follows:
- Leeds 0 Manchester United 0
- Everton 0 Leeds 1
- Burnley 0 Leeds 4
- Leeds 1 Liverpool 1
- Leeds 5 Newcastle United 2
In their final 11 fixtures of the season, including matches against Chelsea, Liverpool, both Manchester clubs and Tottenham Hotspur, Leeds only conceded eight goals and kept the opposition out four times. Their most recent heavy defeat came at Arsenal in mid-February. Even in tough games Leeds now offer the chance of a clean sheet.
For the season ahead, and assuming no injuries, the right hand side of a typical Leeds back four is now established. Both right-back Luke Ayling and Spanish international centre half Diego Llorente started each of that final run of eleven games.
Ezgjan Alioski also started all of them at left-back, but he is now out of contract and supporters have been expecting the club to look for somebody more defensively minded there ever since Barry Douglas picked up a long-term injury in the Championship and even more so since multiple injuries to centre-backs early in the Premier League season required Stuart Dallas to switch sides and deputise for Ayling.
Left centre-back is naturally the home of club captain Liam Cooper (£4.5m), but 21-year-old Pascal Struijk, once on the books of Ajax, has shown he can now seamlessly step in as when the Scottish international was suspended after being sent off in the club’s victory at the Etihad Stadium.
If the prices of Leeds defensive assets remain at £4.5m – as Cooper’s has – they offer potential value, especially if used in rotation, for example with a Brighton player given that the fixtures have them ‘paired’ for home and away matches.