Marcelo Bielsa fears Leeds United defender Robin Koch is “too soft” to be an elite Premier League defender, Football Insider has learned.

The Germany international, 24, has slipped to fourth in the United centre-back pecking order during a debut campaign disrupted by serious knee injury.

Tellingly, Bielsa preferred Pascal Struijk, 21, as Diego Llorente’s central defender partner in Monday’s 1-1 draw against Liverpool in the absence of skipper Liam Cooper.

A Leeds source has told Football Insider that Bielsa regards Koch as a fine player but there is a sense at Thorp Arch he is “too soft” to thrive in the Premier League.

It is said he “doesn’t like the aerial challenges” and this weakness is considered by the coaching staff to be a major issue.

It is the main reason why Koch was ignored by Bielsa for the Elland Road clash against Liverpool in favour of the far less experienced Struijk.

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The manager regards Llorente as the outstanding central defender at the club, with left-footed Cooper his best partner.

Leeds’ defence has been transformed since Llorente put an injury-disrupted debut season behind him in February to make the best position his own.

Bielsa and his backroom staff have been hugely impressed by the £18million signing over the last two months and plan to build the defence around him next season.

The future for Koch is less clear.

Signed from Freiburg last summer in a deal worth £13m, he began the season in the starting XI and made 11 consecutive Premier League starts before suffering a knee injury that ruled him out until early March.

Koch has not added to his 11 league starts since his return to full fitness.

He made sub appearances against Fulham, Sheffield United and Man City but has not started a match since 5 December.

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