Interviews

Luke Ayling reveals why Leeds United already have a readymade Kalvin Phillips replacement

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Leeds United’s Pascal Struijk has impressed since football restarted in June, becoming a part of Marcelo Bielsa’s long-term plans, and Luke Ayling has strong praise for the defender.

The Whites haven’t been able to boast great defensive depth under Bielsa as he adopts a ‘quality over quantity’ approach to managing his squad.

Last season saw Leeds have to call upon a number of academy players to help see out results or push for a winner in the Championship, with Pascal Struijk making a handful of appearances at the back.

His debut came in unfortunate circumstances when he was introduced late on to see out a win against Cardiff City back in December 2019, but he looked out of his depth as the Bluebirds equalised.

However, performances against Barnsley, Derby County, and Charlton Athletic at holding midfield proved his readiness for the first-team under Bielsa.

The Premier League kicked off for Leeds against Liverpool at Anfield, and they were dealt a blow before the season started as Liam Cooper was ruled out with a calf strain.

With Ben White no longer at the club and Gaetano Berardi ruled out for most of the season, Pascal Struijk stepped into the starting 11 for his Premier League debut alongside fellow debutant Robin Koch.

While Leeds conceded four to the reigning champions, Struijk’s confidence to play as he has done in previous games shows he’s ready to step into the Premier League when needed.

His range of passing from the left-centre-back was brilliant along with his aerial presence stifling the Reds from open play, and it was enough to see a lot of doubtful Leeds fans sit up and take notice.

Right-back Luke Ayling has been commenting on Struijk’s abilities amongst his Leeds teammates, calling him one of the best passers at the club after his showings at both centre-back and holding midfield. Speaking to the BBC Radio Leeds (quotes via Yorkshire Evening Post), he had this to say on the centre-back: “I think he can play in both positions equally as good.

“He came in last season when Kalvin got injured and did unbelievable and then got chucked in at the end of the season after not really training much at centre-mid.

“But his range of passing with both feet is probably the best at the club, honestly.

“Both feet he can ping a ball 40/50 yards and it’s pretty impressive to be honest.

“He can do that role that Kalvin has got or he is big enough and strong enough to play centre-half, that’s no doubt.

“He will get better playing at centre-half the more he plays there as it’s a position where the more games you play there the more manly you become and the quicker you think and that.

“He’s probably fourth choice centre-half at a Premier League club and it’s brilliant.”

To have Struijk as fourth-choice at the club seems like an embarrassment of riches to be honest, given how well he’s performed when slotted into the side.

I have no doubt that he will have a key role to play in the coming years for Leeds when Liam Cooper and Diego Llorente begin to age, his versatility to deputise for Kalvin Phillips will also stand him in good stead.

It’s hard to say he’s got the best range of passing in the club when we only see his matchday efforts, but his cross-field ball to Ian Poveda against Charlton was absolutely superb and a prime example of what he can do.

He’ll have to be patient for his opportunities this season but tonight’s game against Wolves could be one of those with both Cooper and Llorente returning from international duty carrying injuries.

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Leeds United season ticket holder since 2013/14, currently situated in the middle of the FA5 noise. From Pablo Hernandez to 5-1 drubbings, I've seen it all at Elland Road.