Noel Whelan is convinced Gaetano Berardi will be axed for Leeds United’s Good Friday showdown against Wigan Athletic if Liam Cooper is given the all-clear to return.

Berardi stepped into face Sheffield Wednesday at the last minute last weekend after skipper Cooper strained a muscle during the warm-ups and pulled out of the starting XI.

The one-time Switzerland international delivered a polished performance in his first start for nearly six months as he slotted into central defence alongside Pontus Jansson.

Marcelo Bielsa subsequently claimed Cooper had suffered only a minor injury and Whelan expects him to return to the team if he is passed fit to play on Friday.

“If Cooper is fit he plays, absolutely” Whelan exclusively told Football Insider. “Berardi did remarkably well against Wednesday but Cooper has been one of Leeds’ best players this season.

“He has really improved and his defensive partnership with Jansson has been outstanding. He is the leader, adds height  and his left-footedness also gives the defence a nice balance through a fantastic range of passing, especially with those diagonal balls to Pablo Hernandez on the right.”

Cooper was named in the Championship team of the season, along with teammate Kalvin Phillips, and is playing the best football of his career.

Leeds have four games remaining of their Championship season and are well placed to secure a top-two finish and avoid the end-of-May play-offs.

In other Leeds United news, it can be REVEALED the club are to open talks with big-name trio ahead of summer window.