Leeds United expect Robin Koch to be in contention for a first-team spot next month – but he is likely to play a few Under-23s matches first, Football Insider understands.
The Germany international, 24, dubbed the “new Ben White” is closing in on his comeback after undergoing knee surgery in early December.
Koch was ruled out for three months at that point is now in the advanced stages of rehabilitation before pushing for a senior recall.
A Leeds source has told Football Insider that the centre-back has been earmarked to first make a playing return in the handful of Under-23s next month.
The plan is for him to build up some match fitness after such a lengthy absence before being gradually re-integrated into the first team, initially from the bench.
The Under-23s have fixtures against Crystal Palace, Wolves, Newcastle United and West Brom in the first three weeks of March.
Koch was signed from Freiburg last summer following the news that Ben White, who spent a dazzling season on loan at Leeds, would remain at Brighton.
Ex-United striker Noel Whelan saw comparisons between the duo before the German’s extended absence.
“He looked very comfortable on the ball and was driving out when he was allowed to,” he told Football Insider.
“[Before the injury] Koch looked very much like the new Ben White, quite frankly. His positioning was fantastic. He just seemed to get better and better with each game.”
Marcelo Bielsa revealed at his media conference that Koch is set to return to first-team training next week and does not expect him to take long to rediscover the level he had reached before breaking down in early December.
Koch actually sustained the injury in the very first game of the season, a 4-3 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield.
But he was able to play through the pain barrier before suffering further damage in a collision early during Leeds’ trip to Chelsea.
The decision was made to operate on the knee and Koch stated his belief that he would be back in action by the spring, ahead of the summer’s European Championships.