'Talent', What A Player - Exclusive: Top pundit in awe of Leeds man despite Spurs drubbing
Noel Whelan has heralded Luke Ayling’s performances as a makeshift centre-back for Leeds United despite defeat against Tottenham.
The former Leeds striker and lifelong fan of the club, speaking exclusively to Football Insider, has paid credit to the transformation of the 29-year-old and insisted he is an “inspiration” for the rest of the squad at Elland Road.
The natural right-back has started all of Leeds’ 17 Premier League games this season and kept his place at the heart of the defence alongside Pascal Struijk against Spurs on Saturday afternoon.
However, the Whites came undone against Jose Mourinho’s men and slipped to a 3-0 defeat in north London.
An Ezgjan Alioski foul allowed Harry Kane to open the scoring from the penalty spot before Heung-min Son and Toby Alderweireld also found the back of the net.
As quoted by Leeds Live, Bielsa insisted he had no problem playing Ayling in the middle and suggested he could even move the defender into a midfield role if the need raised.
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Whelan believes the former Yeovil star has showed his ability as a proven Premier League talent this season and heralded the way he has managed to adapt his game regardless of where he has played.
Asked if Ayling’s willingness to play in a variety of roles meant he was almost guaranteed a place in the side, Whelan told Football Insider: “I think it is more about his talent.
“There are many players in this Leeds side that have adapted and can adapt to different positions and they’re all willing, no one’s ever going to say no to the manager to not play in a certain position. Good players can play anywhere.
“He’s a very good player, and he’s played there before at Bristol City so he knows the role, but don’t get me wrong, it is a different kind of skill set once again, moving from a right-sided wing-back role to centre-half.
“There are different skill sets that you need in covering round and that positional sense, getting back into the centre of goal to stop balls coming in and he’s one of these players that can adapt.
“We’ve talked about Leeds United being soft at set-pieces and not aggressive enough, he’s become a lot more aggressive as well and they all had to be, really, with set-pieces. They’re not going to win every ball in the air but they’re up close and personal and enjoying that physical battle now.
“That’s what they’ve got to do – take away height, Luke Ayling is one of these players that is an inspiration out there to others, the way he plays, the way he goes about his job, he’s got great pace, he reads the game well.”