For Leeds United, this hasn’t exactly been the easiest of periods to negotiate.
They headed into the busy festive period without a number of their defenders. Liam Cooper picked up a problem in the thrashing at Old Trafford and thus, joined both Robin Koch and Diego Llorente on the treatment table.
There were massive fears when that happened. After all, he was their only senior centre-half that was still fit. Fortunately, Leeds have done a stellar job and in rotating between a three-man and four-man defence, have now yielded clean sheets in successive games with Burnley and West Brom.
Their clash against the Clarets was a back to the wall job but against the Baggies, Marcelo Bielsa’s men were unrelenting in a 5-0 romp at the Hawthorns.
Had West Brom fans been able to attend, they would have been running for the exit door within half an hour. Though, for all of the wonderful sweeping attacking football, the job that Leeds’ defenders did to put them on the front foot cannot be ignored.
Specifically, we’re talking about the performance of Pascal Struijk. The Dutchman has found game time hard to come by at Elland Road and consequently, his talents haven’t been overly clear.
Though, we’re now starting to see what all the fuss is about. In two matches now, Struijk has been impenetrable at the heart of their defence. Against Burnley he was immense but when they travelled to the Midlands, he was faultless.
The centre-back didn’t have a lot to do but when he did, it was done to perfection. Struijk won a colossal six aerial duels, which was one more than the lively Kalvin Phillips and he prevailed with 95% of his passes – also more than Phillips.
The 21-year-old was a pillar of solidity, taking command of possession on 124 occasions – an incredibly high number.
If anyone questioned whether Struijk has what it takes to perform on a consistent basis in the Premier League, those concerns have been battered away in the last two outings.
Bielsa has never been one to drop a player unnecessarily so it will be interesting to see what he does with the Dutchman once Koch and Cooper are fit again.
At the moment, he is surely undroppable.