Football Features

Diego Llorente: Leeds Utd have signed a ball-playing CB once likened Real Madrid’s legendary “wild axe”

By Ben Green

Published: 15:29, 24 September 2020

Leeds United have bolstered their defence with the signing of Real Sociedad centre-back Diego Llorente.

Marcelo Bielsa has been eager to reinforce his defence this summer after failing to secure Brighton defender Ben White, who spent last season on loan at Elland Road, on a permanent transfer.

Robin Koch was also signed from SC Freiburg last month, giving Bielsa the novelty of multiple options in central defence; Leeds captain Liam Cooper is now back from injury, too, having missed the opening-day encounter with Liverpool.

Who is incoming Leeds signing Diego Llorente?

  • Age: 27
  • Most common position: Left centre-back
  • Fee: £18m (reported)
  • Football Index buy price: £0.53 | sell: £0.29

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So, what can Leeds fans expect from Llorente? And where will the five-time Spain international fit into Bielsa’s system? He has previously drawn comparisons with former teammate Nacho for his ability to play anywhere across the backline, either at centre-back or out wide.

During his formative years in Real’s famed Castilla, this versatility earned the defender praise along with his vision and, perhaps most importantly if he is to adapt quickly to a Bielsa team, his ‘fearless’ mentality.

“He is like Goyo Benito, he has no fear of anything,” his coaches at Castilla supposedly said.

Diego Llorente is a mainly left-sided centre-half with a wide range of passing.

Diego Llorente: A mainly left-sided CB with wide passing range.

Perhaps an offhand remark, but comparisons to the late Real Madrid legend Benito are not to be sniffed at. The former Spain international played for Los Blancos between 1966 and 1982, made over 300 league appearances and won six league titles.

Benito was previously described by famous Spanish journalist Hector del Mar as a ‘Wild Axe’, a player who took no prisoners, was not afraid to advance forward and meet attackers head-on. Nor was he disinclined to get his shorts muddy. He also had a reputation for fairness but, in short, ‘Goyo’ was a real old-school centre-back.

One important way in which Llorente would differ is in his approach to the more technical elements of the game, as you’d expect given Spain’s tactical contributions to the sport since Goyo’s day. Llorente is highly capable when it comes to distribution and proficient with both feet, a trait that will serve him well under Bielsa; he is ultimately comfortable enough on the ball to play in defensive midfield on occasion.

Having failed to supplant either Sergio Ramos or Raphael Varane at the Bernabeu under Zinedine Zidane, despite fruitful loan spells away from the club and recognition from legendary tactician Vicente del Bosque at international level, Llorente left for Real Sociedad in 2017.

In the Basque Country, Llorente’s stock has risen precipitously and he now comes to the Premier League with experience, pedigree and apparently enough eye-catching metrics to convince the fastidious Bielsa to sign him.

Llorente figures in La Liga’s top 10 for passes completed per 90 minutes last season by centre-backs, a list dominated by Barcelona players, and top 15 for possession won in the defensive third.

So, it seems Leeds are signing a cross between Real’s illustrious ‘Wild Axe’ and a more modern, confident ball-player. Alongside ticking those two desirable boxes, Llorente’s versatility will also add depth, allowing Bielsa to shake it up if needs be and revert to a back-three system should goals continue to fly in at their current rate.