Marcelo Bielsa backs under fire Leeds star ahead of Brighton showdown

Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa will welcome Brighton this SaturdayLeeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa will welcome Brighton this Saturday
Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa will welcome Brighton this Saturday
Marcelo Bielsa has vigorously defended Kiko Casilla after heavy criticism of his goalkeeper’s display in Leeds’ shock FA Cup defeat at Crawley.

Casilla, 34, currently second choice behind Frenchman Illan Meslier, returned to the starting line-up for last weekend’s third-round tie and was blamed by a large section of Leeds fans for Crawley’s first two goals.

“I fully trust in Kiko and I will do the utmost possible to help him,” said Bielsa, whose side will bid to bounce back in the Premier League against Brighton at Elland Road on Saturday.

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“I think that the treatment he suffered ignores the fact that he played 40 games for Real Madrid.

“Apart from whether his performances were good or bad, we forget all the things he has done to get the team promoted.”

Casilla was banned for eight matches and fined £60,000 in February last year after being found guilty of racially abusing Charlton forward Jonathan Leko.

The Spaniard denied the charge and said after the independent regulatory commission’s decision that he was “truly sad and devastated”.

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Leeds said at the time that the commission’s decision had been made “on the balance of probability rather than proving Kiko to be guilty beyond reasonable doubt, which we have always believed is the more appropriate burden of proof”.

Casilla has not appeared for Leeds in the Premier League and made just his second senior appearance of the season at Crawley.

“People also don’t consider how he’s been treated publicly given the situation that he had to go through when he was suspended for eight games,” Bielsa said.

“I believe in him, his team-mates believe in him and we are close to him because we value him as a person and a footballer.

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“We accept what people think of him in the media or people, but we know his past and we know his conditions and we care about him a lot as a human being.”

Meslier is expected to return to the starting line-up against Brighton, while Leeds will be without suspended midfielder Kalvin Phillips.

Forward Tyler Roberts is back in contention after recovering from illness, while defenders Liam Cooper and Diego Llorente are also available.

Brighton defender Ben White will return to Elland Road for the first time since helping Leeds win promotion during a successful loan spell last season.

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Leeds failed in their bid to sign White permanently in the summer, but Bielsa is ready to give him a warm welcome.

“All of us here admire him as a player,” Bielsa added. “We respect him and love him as a human being.

“He was an excellent professional as well as a team-mate. I hope his career allows him to grow because he deserves it.”