Leeds United kickstart a run of five Premier League games in a little under three weeks when they welcome Crystal Palace to Elland Road this evening.
Marcelo Bielsa’s side will be hoping to get their 2021/22 campaign properly underway after a topsy-turvy start to the season which sees them sit just one place above the relegation zone on only two wins.
Last time out, the Whites were held by Brighton and Hove Albion to a 0-0 stalemate and if you were being honest, they were lucky to return to Yorkshire with a share of the spoils.
The Seagulls dominated possession (57%) and recorded nearly double the number of shots (20), per SofaScore.
United certainly got away with one on Saturday, so they will need to spark a reaction against an Eagles side in fine form under Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira.
One decision facing Bielsa is over the inclusion of Pascal Struijk, who was perhaps unfairly dropped from the Argentine’s starting XI on the south coast. He must be unleashed tonight.
The 22-year-old defender has been a key utility man for the Yorkshiremen this campaign, playing in the middle, at left-back and in defensive midfield and that has been ever so valuable as of late with several stars absent through injury.
Valued at £18m, Struijk could come straight back in at left-back after Junior Firpo endured a nightmare outing against Tariq Lamptey at the weekend, or there’s always a place for him when Bielsa opts for a back-three, whilst Kalvin Phillips’ surprise withdrawal at half-time could also present another opportunity further afield.
In the current squad this season, The 6 foot 3 colossus ranks second for tackles (2.3 per game) and third for interceptions (1.6 per game), whilst only Liam Cooper has been a better ball-playing option, eclipsing his 85% passing accuracy by 0.5%, via WhoScored.
This suggests that he’s a very reliable and consistent defensive option and surely is deserving of a regular place in Bielsa’s lineup.
“Defenders don’t always get a very exciting press. It’s all about Raphinha, it’s all about Joe Gelhardt. But Pascal is the future.
“And the longer he stays under the radar, the better, because he’s got the lot, to be honest. And at some point, there will be a changing of the guard and he’s going to become a supreme centre-back,” he said earlier this month.
On the above evidence, Struijk must be starting at Elland Road this evening. His versatility and consistency makes his involvement a potential game-changer in what is surely a must-win for the struggling Yorkshire giants.
AND in other news, Bielsa must axe Leeds’ “absolute disaster” against Palace…