Marcelo Bielsa has made a bold team selection decision after confirming that under-fire goalkeeper Kiko Casilla is to retain his spot in the starting lineup for the weekend’s clash with Bristol City.
Leeds have been in poor form in recent weeks thanks to their struggles at both ends of the pitch, with Casilla coming in for strong criticism after a string of high-profile errors have cost Leeds points and their healthy lead in the automatic promotion places.
Before mid-December hit, the Spaniard was comfortably statistically the division’s best goalkeeper with 10 goals conceded and 12 clean sheets. However, 10 league games and 20 league goals later, he has been overtaken for the best defensive record by Brentford’s David Raya, but still remains in the lead with clean sheets, still sat on 12 after 32 league games.
There were huge calls for Casilla to be dropped for Saturday’s visit of Bristol City, with Illan Meslier waiting patiently on the sidelines for his opportunity, but these calls were swiftly dashed when Bielsa confirmed that Casilla was to start along with fellow hugely-criticised teammate Patrick Bamford.
The decision didn’t go down well with fans, as one would imagine, but here are two pros and two cons to Bielsa sticking with the former Real Madrid man…
Pro: Sticking with experience
At 33-years-old, Casilla has been around and seen it all in football, from the lowly Spanish divisions, all the way up to collecting three Champions League medals with Real Madrid.
With that in mind, there is clearly a lot more to his game than his counterparts that are breathing down his neck. If a young player is faced with a very poor run of form, they are typically brought out of the team for someone that the club knows can put in a reliable performance.
Casilla’s late-season form last term suggested he might not be the prestigious ‘keeper that many deemed him to be upon his arrival at Elland Road last January. However, he proved those doubters wrong with his assured and confident performances in goal in the first half of this season.
There is no reason why he cannot get over this slump to regain the form that saw him keep more clean sheets than concede goals in the first 21 games.
Con: Why not try Meslier out?
The Whites completed the signing of French youth international Illan Meslier on-loan in the summer with the option to buy, to help provide cover to Casilla in the event of injury or suspension.
Casilla looks to set be on the receiving end of a lengthy ban from the FA following a charge relating to racially aggravated abuse in the Charlton Athletic defeat back in September.
This will force Leeds into sticking with Meslier for a minimum of six games while the Spaniard sits out, so it would be wise to get a better view of how well he will perform in the Championship.
Meslier performed extremely well when Leeds made the trip to the Emirates to face Arsenal in the FA Cup last month, so there’s certainly a quality player there that deserves at least a chance in the league.
Regardless of the ban, Casilla’s form alone should be enough to warrant him facing the axe after being directly at fault for at least five of the 10 league goals Leeds have conceded in 2020, meaning Meslier deserves his shot.
Pro: It should boost Casilla’s confidence
Public manager backing is a huge confidence booster for any player, especially when they aren’t playing to the level that everyone knows they are capable of.
Casilla has been a very important part of Bielsa’s intricate system and leaving him out against Bristol could upset the apple cart a lot, given how confident he is with playing out from the back and starting Leeds attacks.
Bielsa has been one to stick to his guns throughout his managerial career and it has served him very well, so there is no chance he is going to waver now, which should instil a total belief around the club that this process is working and will continue to produce positive results.
If Casilla sees how highly his manager rates him, he should use that as a platform to prove him right and repay the massive amounts of faith in him.
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Con: It lessens the impact of poor performance
Casilla looks set to keep his place for the foreseeable future (ban pending) despite the woeful mistakes that are becoming more than a one-off but are becoming a weekly occurrence.
While Bielsa’s methods are very understandable and justified in his explanation, it completely devalues the concept that players are in the side because they deserve to be.
Typically in most Championship teams, if a player is in poor form, they will be brought out of the team to be replaced by someone eager to stake a claim that they should start, creating a healthy competition for places.
If Casilla is aware that his mistakes won’t ever result in him being dropped, it will breed an awful lot of consistency in him and the rest of the side, knowing that they are almost guaranteed a place.
Players will get far too comfortable with a poor run of form and not go above and beyond to rectify their mistakes.