Marcelo Bielsa’s decision to play the experienced Luke Ayling as a centre-back against QPR on Sunday backfired with a sense of embarrassment as Leeds United suffered a shock 2-1 loss at Loftus Road to exit the FA Cup.
The manager made six changes from the side who lost at Nottingham Forest last week Tuesday, most notably Jamie Shackleton starting at right-back with Ayling partnering Aapo Halme at centre-back with Leif Davis at left-back.
Although the idea Bielsa had in his mind to give some of the younger players a run was right, given some recent injuries to key players, the decision to let Shackleton operate at right-back with Ayling at centre-half was the wrong one and was it down to poor defensive judgement that cost Leeds the game.
Shackleton had been a regular substitute for Ayling, who has been captaining the Whites since he made his return from injury before Christmas, in recent matches and had he been solid in the appearances he made.
But starting against QPR, Shackleton looked the part, while Ayling had to play out of position in the centre of the defence, which quickly became a problem for Bielsa.
The 25-year-old Ayling looked to be struggling with the intensity of the match at times and was it quite surprising to see Bielsa name Adam Forshaw as captain, despite Ayling leading the team out in the previous four matches.
The pairing of Ayling and Halme looked unorganised and the former force did a few risky passes at the back at times, which could easily have gifted possession to QPR.
Also, the fact that the second goal was conceded from a corner where the Leeds defenders seemed to get confused in marking the QPR players, also indicated to Ayling failing to keep the defence tight on set-pieces.
21-year-old Hugo Diaz could maybe have been a better pick at centre-back for Bielsa, given the circumstances of the match, with Ayling on the bench.
But with Leeds still leading the Championship, they will need Ayling to be fit and at his best for the latter stages of the season, but he could now also face competition from Shackleton at right-back.
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