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Marcelo Bielsa praised the strength of character of young Leeds goalkeeper Illan Meslier in his debut Premier League season.

Leeds, which plays West Ham live on Monday night football, have dispatched more goals than every lower pair of sidebars West Brom and Sheffield United and Meslier, 21, have come under criticism last week.

But the Frenchman also kept eight clean sheets – he broke Joe Hart’s top-flight record at 14 last month for an Under-21 keeper – and Bielsa was impressed.

“He is a player with personality and character and he still has room to improve,” said the Leeds head coach.

“But what he’s shown during the season so far is considered a good season.

“Not only because he’s young, even if he was 30, he would still be highly rated.”

Monday March 8 7:00 p.m.

Kick-off at 8:00 p.m.

Leeds have lost four of their last six league games but still aim to finish their first Premier League season in 16 years in the top half of the table.

Monday’s opponents West Ham were one of the surprise packages of the first flight and their challenge in the top four was noted by Bielsa.

He explained why he thinks the Hammers have been so successful under David Moyes this season.

“A secret or something special that I don’t observe,” said the Argentine, who chose Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek as two players who have played a key role in the progress of the Londoners.

“They were able to maintain a stable partnership in the midfield. They are two very important players.”

Soucek was on target in West Ham’s 2-1 win at Elland Road in early December, while Moyes’ side have lost only to Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City in the league since.

“For each of the offensive positions they have two players,” added Bielsa. “Especially with the two wingers and the attacking midfielder.

“The four full-backs they own are important players. Other than that, they’ve resolved the absence of (Arthur) Masuaku.

“Both of their goaltenders shone and the center-backs not only were safe at the back, they also contributed goals on offense.

“They have a very good setter (Aaron Cresswell) with his left foot and the manager was able to get some really good minutes of football with this team.”

Leeds forward Rodrigo (groin) and winger Ian Poveda (ankle) could return to contention after injury, but midfielder Kalvin Phillips (calf) and Jamie Shackleton (groin) are unlikely to either present.

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