Diego Llorente began his return from injury by getting 45 minutes under his belt against Crewe Alexandra on Tuesday night.
Leeds United managed booked their place in the third round of the Carabao Cup with an eventually comfortable 3-0 win against the League One side.
Marcelo Bielsa opted to field a strong side for the cup outing with returns to the starting XI for previously injured pair Llorente and Adam Forshaw.
The latter impressed before being substituted after an hour while the former was replaced at half time by Luke Ayling. It was the first step in his return from a knock he sustained in the friendly against Real Betis at the end of July.
Since arriving at Elland Road from Real Sociedad last summer, Llorente’s progress has been majorly disrupted by injuries which is why Bielsa would not have been comfortable affording him a full 90 minutes against Crewe.
As arguably the club’s most proficient central defender, it is more of a priority to get the 28-year-old fit for Premier League action after the Whites have conceded seven goals in their opening two games.
Whether or not he will be available for selection against Burnley on Sunday remains in question but he should have the benefit of two weeks rest afterwards. With it looking unlikely that he will be selected for the Spain squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers, it is essential time for Llorente to further build his fitness on the training pitch.
Bielsa has made no secret of his admiration for the eight-time international and following a strong end to last season, his manager reserved special praise for his ability.
“He’s a very calm player who makes very few errors,” said the 66-year-old previously. “He plays with a lot of personality and there are no aspects of his game where one can see weaknesses.
“In football today, the players who spend most time on the ball are the central defenders, so he also has an important role in terms of distribution and starting our play. He is a player who has a lot of ability in that sense as well as defensively.”
The Leeds manager, along with the club’s supporters, will be hoping to see Llorente back in league action as soon as possible this season and hopefully it won’t be too long before he is able to return.
However, at the moment the key is to manage the risk of injury and by substituting him at half time on Tuesday night, it shows that Bielsa is unwilling to take any unnecessary risks concerning the fitness of the centre back.
For that reason, it seems unlikely Llorente will complete the full 90 minutes at Burnley on Sunday, if he is to be selected – although it is expected he will travel with the first-team squad at the very least.
There is also the possibility Llorente will be given additional minutes ahead of Sunday, in Friday evening’s under-23 fixture between Leeds and Derby County.