Noel Whelan has heaped praise on Diego Llorente as Leeds United plan to build their defence around him next season.

Speaking exclusively to Football Insider, the former Whites and Coventry striker said the 27-year-old “just gets better and better” and suggested Marcelo Bielsa’s side could be even higher up the table had the centre-half been fit all season.

Leeds signed Llorente from Real Sociedad last summer in an £18million deal, but he was hampered by injuries in the first half of the 2020-21 campaign.

A return to full fitness in February has resulted in the centre-back starting seven consecutive Premier League games, including the 2-1 win over Manchester City.

Football Insider revealed on Monday that Bielsa regards Llorente as the outstanding centre-back and all-round defender at the club.

Whelan backed that judgement and claimed the Spain international is “such an important player” for Leeds.

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“Llorente just gets better and better,” he told Football Insider. “He is my first choice at centre-half all day long.

“He just keeps proving me right. Leeds were right to buy him and now that we have got him to a fitness level where he can put a good run of games together we are seeing an incredible player.

Leeds United defender Diego Llorente

“He is proving to be such an important player for us. The only question is who plays next to him.

“You wonder where Leeds could have finished if Llorente and other centre-halves were fit for the full season.”  

In other news, Leeds United may be about to sign the next Andy Robertson, a well-connected pundit claims.