The Bielsa days, the swashbuckling football, the fierce and fast-paced attacks, the never-say-die attitude. These are the things Leeds United fans would attribute to that team - Liam Cooper and Luke Ayling were as much a part of that as anyone else during those three and a half glorious seasons.

But having both been substituted on against Huddersfield Town at the weekend, many could see that those glory days were behind the experienced pair. Their lack of sharpness was plain to see, and their inclusion in the game saw the free-flow of Leeds' passing significantly alter.

This is not to say that the pair don't have a role to play for Leeds United; their wealth of experience and dressing room influence has given them Captain and Vice-Captain duties for a reason.

However, with the array of young talent at Leeds' disposal, should the influence of Cooper and Ayling now be from more of a distance?

Young and hungry

Having come off the back of an incredibly impressive loan last season at Millwall, surely Charlie Cresswell is eager to make a mark at Leeds, yet Daniel Farke seemingly favours Liam Cooper as a back-up in that position.

However, if Leeds are to keep one of the Championships hottest defenders happy, Cooper surely must soon make way for his younger counterpart. There is a situation where both players can still have an influence at the club. Surely now is the time to give Cresswell a chance, and allow Cooper to mentor him from a distance. Cresswell's hunger and physical sharpness can only be improved upon with the advice of an seasoned defender, surely?

LEEDS, ENGLAND - AUGUST 6: Charlie Cresswell of Leeds United during the Sky Bet Championship match between Leeds United and Cardiff City at Elland Road on August 6, 2023 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images)
LEEDS, ENGLAND - AUGUST 6: Charlie Cresswell of Leeds United during the Sky Bet Championship match between Leeds United and Cardiff City at Elland Road on August 6, 2023 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images)

Loyalty towards experience can only take you so far in a notoriously long and gruelling Championship, and now could be the right time to trust in players who have more mileage ahead of them than behind them.

Tactical mismatch

While most Leeds fans would readily admit that, had this been three years ago, Cooper and Ayling would've complimented Farke's free-flowing football perfectly, they would also admit that the pair are beyond their peak now.

Farke's style relies upon defenders comfortable on the ball, who can move the ball forward; be that by carrying it, or playing precise passes up the pitch. What this season has shown many, however, is that Cooper and Ayling lack the sharpness to carry out this important role.

LEEDS, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 28: Luke Ayling of Leeds United during the Sky Bet Championship match between Leeds United and Huddersfield Town at Elland Road on October 28, 2023 in Leeds, England. (Photo by William Early/Getty Images)
LEEDS, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 28: Luke Ayling of Leeds United during the Sky Bet Championship match between Leeds United and Huddersfield Town at Elland Road on October 28, 2023 in Leeds, England. (Photo by William Early/Getty Images)

Cooper's passing has been particularly disjointed, slowing down potential recycling of balls when play breaks down. Ayling's electric runs forward and ability to match opposing attackers when tracking back has not really been seen this season.

This has to be attributed to their age. Having endured relentless Bielsa football at the peak of their respective careers, it is understandable that the pair are not as sharp as they once were.

A part to play

This is not to say both no longer have a part to play for the club. Having escaped the Championship once before, their wealth of experience will be vital throughout all the twists and turns of a long season. Invaluable, perhaps, may their ability to deflect pressure from the younger members of the squad should the going get tough.

It is not about getting rid of the pair, their place at Leeds United has been rightfully earned through years of sacrifice and dedication to the club, but their roles as first team mainstays may be coming to an end.

Every team needs their Liam Cooper's and Luke Ayling's. They get Leeds United, and Leeds United get them - but their part to play under Farke may need to take a different form for Leeds United to march on together.

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