Aston Villa boss Dean Smith has revealed why he dropped Ross Barkley and replaced him with a teenage rookie.
But Smith says Barkley handled the snub professionally and may return on Wednesday at Sheffield United with Jack Grealish not back in training yet amid a shin injury.
Attacking midfielder Barkley, 27, has endured an inconsistent spell on loan from Chelsea to Villa this term.
He has been been limited to just 14 Premier League games with three goals and one assist.
A hamstring injury sustained five minutes into Brighton’s visit in November led to two months out and left him playing catch up with his fitness.
But to be dropped at Leeds on Saturday after a 2-1 home loss to Leicester and replaced by ex-trainee Jacob Ramsey, 19, for just his second start raised big eyebrows.
Smith, who also replaced Douglas Luiz at Elland Road, responded: “We decided to change it at Leeds knowing the way Leeds played.
“I didn’t think Ross and Douglas had probably played to their standards in the previous game against Leicester and I thought it was time to have a little change.
“But Ross is fit and available and in contention to start against Sheffield United.
“We had a period of games where we had no training and he was playing.
“I said all along unfortunately he was having to get his fitness up during games.
“But he is getting the training minutes he needs now.
“He is up to speed.”
Barkley came to Villa Park on loan in September to boost his England hopes ahead of the rescheduled Euros.
The star has 33 caps but is unlikely to be in Gareth Southgate’s squad later this month.
Yet Smith insists the former Everton trainee has still impressed with his attitude.
He added: “I explained it to both Ross and Douglas and while players are never happy coming out of a team, they understood my reasons because they were the conversations I had.
“In terms of what I’ve found of his character, he’s as professional as I’ve come across with his work on the training ground and in the gym.
“He’s probably one of the last to leave each day when he’s here and he’s got a drive to get better all of the time, which is really pleasing.”
If Barkley returns against the Blades, there will be an onus on him to provide a creative spark as skipper Grealish is out for a third successive game with a shin injury.
But Smith claims Villa’s talisman could potentially be back for the visit of Wolves on Saturday.
It also means Grealish, 25, who has six goals and 10 Premier League assists this term, should be fit for England later this month to add to his five caps.
Smith said: “Jack could be training by the end of the week, I am hopeful on that.
“If he gets out on the training ground he will be available for selection that is for sure.”