The Athletic’s Phil Hay has revealed that Leeds United defender Luke Ayling is among a number of players who will be missing from tonight’s Carabao Cup clash against Fulham.

What’s the story?

Writing on Twitter, the journalist revealed: “A lot of absentees at Fulham tonight – Koch, Llorente, Ayling, Harrison etc. Bamford took that knock in the second half at Newcastle so not expecting him to play. Forshaw has a chance of featuring though. #lufc”

This was then confirmed by the club’s official website, which posted: “Patrick Bamford and Luke Ayling will both miss tonight’s Carabao Cup game with Fulham following injuries picked up in Friday night’s match against Newcastle United.

“Bamford has an ankle injury, whilst Ayling was withdrawn with a knee injury. Both will continue rehabilitation at Thorp Arch before Saturday’s Premier League game against West Ham United at Elland Road.”

Bielsa will be worried

While Ayling being ruled out for a third round Carabao Cup clash away at Championship side Fulham is hardly likely to have Bielsa sweating buckets, the Leeds manager will certainly be worried about how significant the 30-year-old’s injury is going forward.

With Llorente, Koch and Struijk all out either through injury or suspension, centre-back has suddenly become an area of real concern for Bielsa after initially being a position of strength.

Whilst he may not be the most glamorous or eye-catching name on the team-sheet, there’s no questioning that Ayling has been one of the manager’s most trusted lieutenants over the past couple of seasons.

The £45k-a-week ace played the full 90 minutes in every single Premier League game last season bar one, and even that was when Bielsa took him off to try and find a goal in the last 20 minutes against ten-man Arsenal.

Ayling also wore the captain’s armband on 12 occasions last year, and his leadership at the back is something the Whites could desperately use when you consider that other first-choice defenders such as Llorente, Koch and Struijk are also ruled out.

Described as a “great technician”, his presence in the side cannot be underestimated, with Bielsa saying after Leeds’ 3-0 victory over Aston Villa back in late October that the right-back “transmitted serenity to the rest of the team”.

The Leeds boss even once said that Ayling was someone “who can solve any problem”, and that’s exactly why Hay’s update is a body blow for Bielsa and the club.

Meanwhile, Bielsa must unleash this Leeds starlet tonight against Fulham…

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