When Luke Ayling was ruled out for the rest of the season it felt like we would get through it without much trouble, but we were very wrong. I had been worried about his form, the tactics of Thomas Christiansen meant that Ayling was constantly exposed and out of position, probably through no fault of his own but we’ve missed him massively, and now he’s back in light training.
Ayling picked up an injury and initially he said he thought it was fine, a few days later it was revealed that it was very serious, in fact he wouldn’t kick a ball again this season. The feeling from the club was that Ayling would make a recovery in time for pre-season and that looks well on course, pictures and videos of him in training have been posted by the club on social media and I think everyone will be delighted by the images. On a personal note I didn’t realise how much we would miss Luke Ayling both on and off the field, maybe he is the leader we have been missing, and you think our centre-back issues would have been eased if he was fit, he has a personality that comes across on the pitch and that has disappeared, a long story short he is one of the most important players at this football club.
Gaetano Berardi was the obvious player to slot in at right-back, as was Vurnon Anita but the pair haven’t stepped up. Berardi has been sent off twice and missed nine games through suspension since Ayling was injured and Vurnon Anita is as good as gone with his performances, something hasn’t worked with that signing and you can’t really put your finger on it. For those who have the simple explanation that he’s s*it, it’s not that simple, he played the majority of games for Newcastle last season and won the league. Currently we are seeing Stuart Dallas fill in at right-back and although he’s doing his best, Stuart Dallas quite simply isn’t a right-back.
Ayling looks set to return for pre-season and that will be great for the squad and for him, the boost he will give by being back around the first-team will be huge and we probably didn’t realise how much until he was out of the picture recently. If we can keep Pontus Jansson and get him a partner, with Luke Ayling back in at right-back all of a sudden the defence looks miles better. The left-back situation needs to be addressed, young Tom Pearce looks a player but whether or not he is seen by the club as the answer we don’t know yet. The likes of Matthew Pennington and Vurnon Anita will probably go and other players like Liam Cooper and Conor Shaughnessy have come under criticism this season, Jansson himself may not hang around. The return of Ayling for the summer is good news for everyone at Leeds United.