Leeds United’s deal to sign Dinamo Zagreb defender Josko Gvardiol appears to be stalling as Marcelo Bielsa assesses his current squad’s capabilities in the Premier League.
Leeds made their Premier League bow at Anfield on Saturday, with a makeshift back four shipping four goals to Liverpool in a hectic 4-3 loss.
While four goals conceded may read as a poor day at the office for the back line, it was a Premier League debut for all four of the defence: Luke Ayling, Robin Koch, Pascal Struijk, and Stuart Dallas.
Liam Cooper pulled out late, forcing Struijk to step in and produce a very confident performance, despite it being just his fourth appearance for the Whites and his first as an out-and-out centre-back.
Leeds’ transfer activity hasn’t finished yet this window with Marcelo Bielsa eager to ensure that his defence is sufficiently covered for the coming season, while also paying attention to not overloading the position too much.
Links to Croatian wonderkid Josko Gvardiol have been strong ever since Italian reporter Farbizio Romano broke the news:
Since then, the trail hasn’t necessarily gone cold for Leeds, but their efforts in signing the young defender haven’t taken any major leaps forward.
Bielsa is famed for having very thin squads to ensure that he can get the best out of what he has, as not to over-saturate positions and upset the fine balance, and it appears he’s looking to assess the centre-back spot before jumping into a big-money signing.
Struijk’s handling of the Liverpool threat from open play was exemplary and it’s certainly a sign of things to come from the towering Dutchman, giving Bielsa a headache over whether Leeds actually need another body in there.
The Athletic’s Phil Hay has revealed that the club remain ‘seriously interested’ in Gvardiol and have the budget to stump up the £20million asking price. However, the deal isn’t hurtling towards a conclusion right now as Leeds look to see whether they can save their money and utilise Struijk’s talent as third choice, which would probably be the right number of players Bielsa will want to work with in the first-team.
Gvardiol is sure to be a top centre-back in the future if he continues his progress in the manner he currently is, but the same could be said about Pascal Struijk.
That performance at Anfield obviously had areas for improvement given the four goals shipped, but from open play, Leeds stifled any of Liverpool’s creativity, something that barely anyone in Europe has managed to do.
Struijk’s Leeds career got off to a terrible start at home to Cardiff last season, but since then he has worked incredibly hard to get back to a point where Bielsa can place serious faith in him, and his last three appearances have more than made up for it.
In my opinion, if Bielsa is looking to only have one centre-back behind Cooper and Koch, it would make sense to keep Struijk in that picture after such a strong display, especially with Gvardiol costing a hefty sum and having to play catchup in training for a while.