Noel Whelan claims that Leeds United defender Gaetano Berardi is set to be handed a rare start at the heart of the defence after Marcelo Bielsa confirmed Liam Cooper would be missing through injury.

Speaking exclusively to Football Insider assistant editor Russell Edge, the former Leeds striker and lifelong fan of the club says that the Swiss international is likely to be given the nod over fellow defender Luke Ayling for the Whites’ trip to the Den due to his fitness levels.

Bielsa confirmed at his press conference that Cooper, who has been a mainstay alongside Ben White at centre back, would be missing for up to six weeks, with Berardi named among a number of alternative options for Saturday’s game.

Whelan says that as the most experienced option among Cooper’s potential replacements, Berardi is likely to be given a rare start by Bielsa, suggesting that Ayling’s recent return to fitness means he is unlikely to be ready to play as a makeshift centre back.

Whelan told Football Insider: “It’s a massive blow. I think Berardi’s going to get the nod, I think, with his aggression. He’s had a full season without injury really, he’s stepped in when needed in those positions.

“It’s a little too soon for Luke (Ayling) to come back in to that centre half role but I think Berardi’s more than capable. When he came in the other night and stood in there for Cooper, he didn’t let anybody down, put his body on the line, blocking shots. 

“I’m more than happy knowing he can do the job.” 

Berardi has played three times for Leeds in the Championship this season but only one of those appearances came in the starting XI, with a number of unused substitute outings to his name.

Meanwhile, Ayling came off the bench against West Brom for his first appearance of the campaign, having been sidelined with an injury problem over the summer.

In other Leeds United news, Football Insider can reveal that the club are on the brink of securing a new deal after terms were agreed behind the scenes.