By Wayne Veysey

23rd Dec, 2020 | 4:00pm

Exclusive: Big update on Leeds potentially offloading Helder Costa in January

Helder Costa has come in for fierce criticism in recent weeks from Leeds United fans and the punditocracy.

Axed from the starting XI by Marcelo Bielsa, the Portugal international has lost his place to the brilliant summer arrival Raphinha and faces a major battle to get back in the team.

As every Leeds player, as well as supporter, knows, Bielsa does not like to change the team, even when they are losing.

It is rare for anything other than an injury or suspension to force the manager’s hand, which is why it was so eyecatching when Costa was dropped from the team against Arsenal last month.

He has now been benched for the last six matches, three of which have been lost by Leeds.

It could now be a long way back to first-choice status despite the team’s up-and-down results for the former Wolves man.

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Signed by Leeds on a loan-to-buy deal in the summer of 2019, the initial loan was converted into a permanent deal in the last window for a fee of around £15million.

For most of his time at Elland Road, Costa has been a regular starter on the right side of the attack after the initial few months getting adjusted to Bielsa’s demanding methods.

His numbers are not sensational, and were not in the Championship, with his 56 appearances yielding six goals and 10 assists.

Bielsa’s recent revelation that Costa’s absence from the matchday squad completely for the 5-2 win over Newcastle United was unrelated to an injury raised eyebrows, and hinted as possible issues behind the scenes.

Pablo Hernandez, who has had his owns issues in recent times, and youngsters Tyler Roberts and Ian Poveda were all preferred to Costa.

Yet, with nine subs now allowed, the Portugese returned to the bench for last Sunday’s humbling at Man United although he was again ignored by Bielsa.

A Leeds source has told Football Insider there are no plans to offload Costa in January.

He is regarded as a long-term investment by the club and will be told by the coaching staff to fight for his place.

The competition for the wide attacking roles is certainly stiff at Elland Road following the £17m capture of Raphinha.

With Jack Harrison a fixture on the left flank, the Brazilian, who like Costa, operates on the right flank cutting in on his favoured left foot, looks a tough man to dislodge.

He earned a glowing appraisal from Football Insider pundit and lifelong Leeds fan Noel Whelan for his display at Old Trafford on what was an otherwise dispiriting afternoon, as well as his all-round abilities.

Whelan, Danny Mills and other ex-United stars have been less complimentary about Costa, who is now in a major battle to get back in favour.

In other news, Football Insider has been told by renowned striker expert how Leeds United have a sensational youngster in their ranks.