Leeds United defender Leo Hjelde could be the answer to one of Jesse Marsch’s lingering problems at Elland Road.
The Nottingham-born teenager was signed from Celtic in August 2021 and soon became the youngest-ever Norweigen to play in the Premier League after he made his debut against West Ham United, less than a week after starring in their defeat to them in the FA Cup.
Those are just two of his four senior appearances for the west Yorkshire giants and interestingly, he has often been deployed at left-back, rather than his more natural central defensive role.
It’s a position that Marsch is struggling in right now, with Junior Firpo currently out injured. That said, even when the former FC Barcelona man is available, he’s far from an ideal starter.
Daily Mirror journalist David Anderson described the defender as a “liability” to the team, so perhaps the American head coach ought to turn to the young Norway U21 international instead.
The 19-year-old has been widely tipped as the ‘next Virgil van Dijk’ by some, though the 6 foot 2 gem could have a future at left-back, given his pace attributes and defensive intelligence.
After the game against the Hammers, Leeds legend Jermaine Beckford waxed lyrical about Hjelde. He told the club’s official podcast:
“The young boy, Hjelde when he came on as well, what a player he’s looking by the way.
“I don’t want to put too much pressure on him. But that’s twice we’ve seen him, twice we’ve seen him against West Ham, against a very physical, very strong, very quick centre forward in Michail Antonio and a tricky player in Jarrod Bowen.
“I don’t want to say he had them in his pocket, but I think he did.”
“Leo is going to be the next Van Dijk. Trust me on that.
“The quality he has shown, the physical challenge, playing real men’s football and standing up to it – it’s been a wonderful experience for Leo.”
Hjelde’s inclusion at left-back could be a smart decision that allows Pascal Struijk to move back into a more natural central role, whilst also keeping the inconsistent Firpo out of the side completely, which after the recent 5-2 drubbing by Brentford, could be a wise move indeed.
Marsch has experience in developing youth, so it would make further sense to transition the 19-year-old into a first-team star at Leeds. Next van Dijk or not, he’s worth a shot at left-back.