Speaking on the Inside Elland Road podcast (2:30) uploaded yesterday (Tuesday), the Yorkshire Evening Post correspondent explained Marcelo Bielsa has abandoned plans to recruit another centre-back and Pennington is set to join a rival club ahead of Friday’s Championship loan deadline.
This comes after discussions between Leeds and Everton this month over a second spell on loan at the club for Pennington after his 2017-18 season-long term.
“It’s clearly apparent he’s not going to sign a centre-back,” Hay told the podcast. “They did speak to Everton about Matthew Pennington. I’m not sure it would have happened anyway, as much as Pennington wanted to come back.
“It was obvious to Everton that Leeds were looking for cover in that position and it was obvious Pennington wouldn’t be coming in as first choice.
“For Pennington, who has been told he can go, it will be elsewhere. Bielsa simply doesn’t want another centre-back, he seems completely comfortable with what he has got. He has taken a big shine to Gaetano Berardi, who will be a regular in that position if his form and discipline holds.”
Is Berardi a more reliable third option at centre-back than Pennington? Bielsa certainly seems to think so, according to the reliable Hay. The manager has been won over by the no-holds-barred commitment of the Switzerland international, a cult hero on the terraces for his ferocious intensity and willingness to put his body on the line. Pontus Jansson and Liam Cooper are the senior centre-back pairing, but neither have unblemished injury histories. Berardi, by contrast, has question marks over his discipline and understanding of the centre-back role after spending his entire career at full-back. Moreover, standing at 5ft 11in (source: Transfermarkt), he is far from the commanding centre-back many might assume is vital for a promotion-winning campaign. That said, Leeds fans are learning to trust in the judgement of Bielsa, who has turned water into wine in a matter of weeks after being handed a squad with more holes than Swiss cheese.