By Noel Whelan

11th Jan, 2021 | 8:30pm

'Massive News' - Exclusive: Whelan reacts to Phil Hay's Leeds player reveal

It is “massive” for Leeds United and Marcelo Bielsa to have club captain Liam Cooper return to full fitness, according to Noel Whelan.

Speaking exclusively to Football Insider, the former Whites striker and boyhood Elland Road fan delivered his verdict after the 29-year-old played 45 minutes against Crawley Town on Sunday.

Cooper started the game but was one of three changes Bielsa made at half-time with the scores level at the People’s Pension Stadium before they collapsed to a 3-0 defeat to the League Two outfit.

Phil Hay of the Athletic revealed after the game it was always the plan for the Hull-born defender to play just the first-half as he makes his return from injury.

Asked by Football Insider whether it was a big positive to get minutes in Cooper’s legs as per the plan, Whelan said: “Yes, absolutely. He’s the club captain and we’ve been struggling for centre-halves.

“He’s one of those players who is a leader out there on the field and one of the players you get the most consistency out of.

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“So to see him back is massive news, especially when you’ve got Brighton and Southampton coming up and you need natural defenders and leaders out there in the Premier League games.

“It will be nice to have him back and I’m guessing with Luke Ayling.

“I’m not sure how far Diego Llorente is off but he’s been training and wasn’t ready for yesterday’s game. He could be another player that could be included in the squad for the Brighton match giving him another week of fitness and making sure he’s 100 per cent right for the game.”

Sunday’s game was the Scotland international’s first appearance for the Yorkshire giants since he picked up an injury in their 6-2 defeat to Manchester United on December 20.

In other news, a top pundit has destroyed a Leeds United star who lost possession 15 times v Crawley Town.