'I thought I was going to play three games' - Leeds United defender reveals his pre-season Premier League expectations
Pascal Struijk's season has already eclipsed his personal expectations for what was possible at Leeds United.
The 16 Premier League starts are far beyond what the 21-year-old hoped for in pre-season. Injuries to new signings Diego Llorente and Robin Koch, along with captain Liam Cooper, have given Struijk the chance to prove his worth in his natural position in the top flight.
On Friday night, with Cooper suffering from illness and Koch still making his way back to full fitness after knee surgery, Struijk is likely to continue his burgeoning partnership with Llorente at the heart of the Leeds defence against Fulham.
At this point, it's all a bonus for the defender.
"I've achieved more than I was expecting at the start of the season," he told LUTV.
"I think I've said it before, I thought I was going to play three games maybe, start three games and get some minutes as a sub. I've already achieved everything I wanted to this season so right now I'm just looking at what more I can do.
"I try to stay in the team, of course, that's everyone's goal. I'm trying to play every minute I can play, we'll see how the season goes. When I do get the chance I'm trying to take it."
When Kalvin Phillips has been out, Marcelo Bielsa has also opted to use Struijk as back up in the defensive midfield position, which he admits asks a more difficult question of him.
Bielsa first put Struijk in the position in training after football's lockdown period last year and played him there when Phillips was out right at the end of Leeds' title-winning Championship season. Struijk's initial performances were promising, although as expected, the top flight provides a far greater difficulty for a player in a less familiar position.
Struijk has still relished the chance to play, no matter his role.
"I've enjoyed every game, it's still my dream to play in the Premier League and to play week in and week out sometimes is really good to me," he said.
"It is a challenge, mostly in the midfield role because that's the most difficult for me. I'm a natural centre-half I think. The right side is good, the left side is known for me but midfield is a challenge."
On Friday, Struijk and Leeds face a Fulham side still in the relegation zone, despite recent improvement in performances and form.
"It's a tough game," he said.
"I think they play good football for the position they're in. It's the same as every game, we know it's good for us to win this game."