Luke Ayling captained Leeds United to a 1-0 victory over Southampton in the Premier League on Saturday afternoon.
Leeds picked up their first league win since November 5th thanks to Junior Firpo’s second-half goal, starting the Javi Gracia tenure in perfect fashion, moving out of the bottom three.
Gracia, like both Jesse Marsch and Michael Skubala, opted to keep Ayling in the side at right-back ahead of summer signing Rasmus Kristensen.
Is Ayling now Leeds’ starting right-back?
Kristensen started the season as Marsch’s right-back with Ayling out injured. However, slowly, Ayling has worked his way back into the starting line-up and has now started Leeds’ last nine Premier League games, playing 90 minutes on eight occasions.
Our writers Kris (FA5) and Alfie (N12) discuss whether or not Ayling has established himself as Leeds’ first-choice once more at this early stage of Gracia’s spell in-charge.
For now, you’d have to say that Ayling is more than justifying his new contract, and is making Gracia’s decision at right-back very easy.
Rasmus Kristensen might be worth a shout in the FA Cup tonight, just to see if a different defensive shape gets more out of him too, but Ayling does not deserve to be out of the lineup at all right now.
Transitioning between managers is something that Ayling has taken to very well during his entire Leeds career, and he’s going to be an important player at both ends of the pitch going forward.
The new deal suggests that the club are more than happy with how he is playing too, and Kristensen has a task on his hands to take that starting spot back.
The big updated Luke Ayling quiz – Can Leeds United fans score 20/20?
There’s still confidence in me that Kristensen will come good at Leeds and, actually, it probably worked against him Ayling missing the start of the season. That competition and option for him to not be straight in the deep end would’ve probably been helpful.
However, right now, it doesn’t feel like he’s going to get a sniff at right-back whilst everyone is fully fit, such is the level of Ayling’s performances.
The 31-year-old has earned himself a year’s extension on his contract with his performances after the World Cup and, post-Marsch, he’s underlined his importance with mature displays, where he’s been leading from the front; the way he helped Leeds see out Saturday’s win against Southampton was excellent.
You’ve also got to imagine that he’s going to thrive in Gracia’s system, which is that bit more reliant on width and allows the full-backs to gets forwards, overlapping and underlapping. That’s Ayling’s game and a style of football that brought the best out of him under Marcelo Bielsa.
From what we’ve seen so far, Kristensen lacks that same confidence in the final third and Gracia’s selection at right-back is, for now, a fairly simple one.