There were plenty who thought Marcelo Bielsa had left a huge void in his defence when Pontus Jansson was abruptly sold to Brentford in July.
The Swede was a huge influence and presence during his three years at Leeds United, and the only defensive arrival in the summer was a rookie centre-back from Brighton on a season-long loan, who had never played at Championship level in his career.But Leeds fans had no need to worry. Bielsa tends to know what he is doing. Ben White has arguably been the standout centre-back in the second tier this season. “Leeds fans were incredibly nervous when Jansson. He was a key player for us and finding the right replacement was crucial,” Leeds fan Andrew Dalton told Sky Sports.”Step forward White, and what an inspirational signing he has proved to be. He hasn’t missed a minute of league football. He’s defensively solid and has the ability to bring the ball out and create goals – his brilliant through-ball to Patrick Bamford, which created the opening goal in our 2-1 win at Luton being just one example.”As much as I loved Pontus, it doesn’t feel like we’re missing him at the moment.”White leading from the back Leeds have conceded just 10 goals in 19 games – at least four fewer than any other side in the Championship – and White has individually kept at least three more clean sheets (10) than any other defender.White also leads the way in terms of interceptions made by defenders (51), and the number of times he has won possession in the defensive third (87). Only Fulham’s two centre-backs, Tim Ream and Alfie Mawson, have made more successful passes than White’s 971. He has completed 11 of 14 dribbles attempted, putting him third in the Championship in terms of percentage completed (79 per cent), with only team-mate Luke Ayling (82 per cent) and Fulham’s Denis Odoi (81 per cent), who have both spent time at full-back, ahead of him.Leeds also rank first for fewest goals conceded (10), most clean sheets (10), fewest shots on target faced (52) and Expected Goals Against (xGA) from open play (7.8). Only Brentford are statistically ahead of them in terms of total shots faced and overall xGA.Building on last season Leeds’ imperious defence has also improved since last season. They are conceding 0.5 goals per game in 2019/20 compared to 1.1 per game in 2018/19 (including play-offs), they have already kept 10 clean sheets in 19 games, whereas last season they kept 17 in total in 48 games.Per game they are facing fewer shots (8.7 to 9.4), fewer shots on target (2.7 to 3.1) and have a better xGA per game of 0.8 than last season, when it was 0.9.A relative unknown has become a key performer for one of the world’s most-celebrated managers. In fact, Bielsa has so much faith in White’s ability on the ball that he’s set to push him forward to replace the suspended Kalvin Phillips in midfield for their clash with Huddersfield – which is live on Sky Sports Football on Saturday.’You could just see that he oozed quality and class’ White in action for Leeds this season Newport boss Michael Flynn handed White his senior league debut in 2017, having brought him, then just 19 – on loan to Rodney Parade in League Two for the season.Flynn said he knew what a talent he was on the ball, but also admired how quickly he adapted to the level of football in the fourth tier.”I watched him, and somebody who does recruitment for me spotted him as well and first made me aware of him,” Flynn told Sky Sports. “I contacted Brighton straight away because I didn’t want anyone else to see him, I knew how good he would be and I knew he would be fine in League Two and be able to handle any situation thrown at him. Newport boss Michael Flynn handed White his senior league debut “The only issue was physicality, which is something you can never quite be sure of until they’re in the heat of the battle. But I remember playing away at Wycombe and he went up against Adam El-Abd – Brighton’s old captain who was a very strong man – and I said to my assistant, ‘now we’ll find out’. It was a 50-50 tackle and Ben went straight through him, came out the other side with the ball, and then pinged a 60-yard diagonal pass. From that moment on there were no worries whatsoever.”The way he reads the game, how comfortable he was on the ball, his positional sense and the performances he put in, I could go on and on. When you consider it was his first loan, he was just exceptional. You could just see that he oozed quality and class, and he moved like a Rolls Royce.”He came out with the ball which allowed us to play more. His recovery runs and positional sense stopped a lot of attacks against us, and he was very versatile. I played him at right-back, left-back, in a back three and a back four and I know he can play holding midfield as well because he’s got the vision, the athleticism and the quality on the ball.”‘I can’t speak highly enough of him.’ White played for Newport in the FA Cup at Tottenham in 2018 There is no doubting White’s quality on the ball, but it was his character both on and away from the pitch which Flynn most admired.”What I was more impressed with was how he handled everything, even the big games in the FA Cup against Tottenham”, he continued. “Nothing fazed him, he just got on with it and did his job.”He was so mature, which is something you don’t often see in a lot of young players now, where it’s all about the social media and Instagram and things. He never got too carried away, he just focused on football and didn’t let anything get in his way.”We nearly lost him in January that year. I was literally begging him not to go, and the fact he did shows what a person he is. He said he wanted to come here for the year, and that he was really enjoying it and that we improved him as a player. He said he owed it to us to stay here for the season, even though he easily could have gone up a league. I can’t speak highly enough of him.” 2:01 Highlights of the Sky Bet Championship match between Leeds and Middlesbrough Highlights of the Sky Bet Championship match between Leeds and Middlesbrough Flynn – who would later describe White as the best loan signing Newport had ever made – has watched closely as White has gone on to impress at both Peterborough in League One last season and now Leeds, and has no doubt about how far he can go. “Whether Leeds go up and try to buy him or not, I’m sure he’ll firmly be in Brighton’s plans because he’s a huge talent,” he said. “He has gone through the leagues and done well in every single one of them, and they deserve a huge amount of credit for that.”I think he’ll play in the Premier League and for England.” Win £250,000 on Wednesday! FREE TO PLAY: Do not miss your chance to land the £250,000 jackpot for the fifth time this year.