Darren Bent has tipped Liam Cooper to make an immediate return to the Leeds United starting XI against Crawley Town on Sunday.
The former Aston Villa and England striker, speaking exclusively to Football Insider, believes the FA Cup tie is the perfect opportunity for the 29-year-old to build up his fitness after missing the last three games due to an abdominal injury.
Speaking at his pre-match press conference, as relayed by journalist Beren Cross, Marcelo Bielsa confirmed the Scotland international had recovered from his layoff and is in contention to feature against the League Two outfit.
From Bielsa: Cooper and Llorente are injury-free, but the former is closer to playing on Sunday than the latter, who could play if absolutely needed. Roberts remains unavailable. #lufc
— Beren Cross (@BerenCross) January 8, 2021
With Cooper, Diego Llorente and Robin Koch all out injured, the Argentine boss played Luke Ayling and Pascal Struijk as a makeshift centre-back pairing against Burnley, West Brom and Tottenham.
However, Bent believes Bielsa should axe one of his players who started the 3-0 defeat to the north Londoners to bring his captain back into the side.
Asked if he thought Bielsa should throw Cooper straight back into the starting XI, Bent told Football Insider: “See, for me, because he’s a centre-half and he’s not all action – an attacker might rely on his pace and power and would put his body under a lot more strain.
“You’d like to think Leeds against Crawley will control a lot more to possession so I would probably be inclined to play him from the start and just see how he gets on because the way Leeds play, they’re going to dominate possession.
“They’re going to be free-flowing going forward so I don’t think he’s gonna be asked to do too much. I would probably, in that case, if you want to get him back up to speed as quick as possible I would probably put him back in that scenario.
“I think he should be able to coast through that game.”
Cooper has played 11 times for Leeds this season and netted his first Premier League goal against Manchester United before coming off injured.
Crawley currently sit sixth in the League Two table, with 61 league places between the Reds and their Premier League counterparts ahead of Sunday.