We’re just over the halfway mark of the 20/21 Premier League season which, let’s face it, is something that the Leeds United fan base have been dreaming about for 16 years. This is a long time for your club to be away from the pinnacle of English football and I think I’m with every football fan when I say that Leeds United are certainly a welcome addition. Despite their expansive, all-out attacking style of play, mastered by managerial legend Marcelo Bielsa, the defensive pressure put upon his team is often overlooked. These defensive pressures sit firmly on a young Dutchman’s shoulders, his name, Pascal Struijk.
Struijk, like many others, was a product of the famous Ajax academy, known for producing young footballing talent with masses of potential, including the likes of Wesley Sneijder, Marco Van Basten and Frank Rijkaard. However, it has also had its fair share of criticism for throwing players into the deep end and seeing if they ‘sink or swim’ and that often quiet and introverted players sometimes get lost in the Ajax system. Pascal said himself that Ajax taught him to “open my mouth.” Having no first team appearances in his sights, it would be a move to English footballing giants Leeds United in January 2018 that would allow Pascal Struijk to perform on a larger scale.
Leeds entered their new quest with an opening fixture against the current champions, Liverpool. The game would see a Premier League classic ending 4-3 and it was in this game Pascal Struijk made his Premier League debut. This alone began to open Leeds United and neutral fans eyes as Marcelo Bielsa had trusted him to fill his captain, Liam cooper’s boots, due to the Scottish international picking up a pre-season injury. Going forward in attack Leeds looked extremely strong that day, however, it would be their defensive vulnerability that allowed Liverpool to walk away with all three points; something that has become a reoccurrence in many games this season and has come with its fair share of criticism. Struijk himself has experienced a lot of fan criticism as of late, the 21-year-old has often filled the position usually occupied by Leeds-born Kalvin Phillips, as a result of the new England international picking up the occasional injury. Criticised by fans for not having the same flair and ball retention rate, as well as turning defensive plays into attacks, I often think the criticism Struijk receives can be a harsh, given Marcelo Bielsa’s style of play, which leaves themselves vulnerable defensively. This is never going to shower a defensively minded player in masses of glory.
However, his time at Leeds hasn’t been all doom and gloom. Infact, for the majority, the Dutchman has received a gleaming report from the Leeds United faithful. Primarily filling the centre back role for new signings Robin Koch and Diego Llorente, who are both currently in the treatment room, Struijk has seen many dominant performances in the role since the start of the season. Arguably, his best being in the recent away game which say Leeds celebrate a win at the King Power. In that game, he recorded 55 successful passes and 5 clearances; more than any other player on the pitch. This, along with 4 ball recoveries and 0 Leicester players dribbling past him, you must wonder, is the criticism he receives warranted?
So, is Pascal Struijk a key factor to Leeds United’s plans or another player to keep a cautious eye on? Well, that certainly falls as a matter of opinion. I feel Struijk has, so far, proved his worth in Leeds United’s march back to their full potential. His flexibility to adapt into multiple different roles within the team is something that should not go unnoticed, and although there are talks of Leeds owner and director of foobtall Andrea Radrizzani and Victor Orta finding a suitable replacement for Kalvin Phillps, should injuries keep occurring, I think Leeds fan shouldn’t worry just yet. Pascal Struijk, Strong, youthful and adaptable. But a long way to go yet.
featured image credit sky sports